California fines Target $22.5 million

Discount retailer Target Corp. has agreed to pay the state of California $22.5 million to settle accusations that its stores dumped hazardous chemicals over a number of years, according to a tentative agreement filed in Superior Court in Alameda County.

Target admits no wrongdoing in the settlement, which is part of a crackdown on big-box retailers by California prosecutors. Both Home Depot and Walmart have been hit with multimillion-dollar fines in recent years for environmentally related violations.

In Target’s case, the prosecutors claim that store employees in multiple locations improperly stored, transported and disposed of bleach, paint, pesticides, batteries, light bulbs and other hazardous materials, including pharmaceuticals. These violations were often motivated by cost savings, according to the state attorney general’s office. Chemicals returned by customers or found to be defective were poured down the drain, tossed into dumpsters and trucked to landfills not equipped for hazardous waste, prosecutors claim.

In one case, according to court documents, pool chemicals poured into a trash compactor reacted with other chemicals and caused noxious fumes, resulting in an evacuation of the building transportation of several people to local hospitals.

The investigation began in 2005 after Target, which operates 236 locations in the state, was hit with repeated violations of California's hazardous waste disposal laws. A complaint was filed in 2009 by then Attorney General Jerry Brown, who now serves as California Governor, joined by district attorneys and city attorney throughout the state.

In the tentative settlement, now under Attorney General Kamala Harris, Target has agreed to pay settlements to 20 of these prosecutorial offices, plus fines to various environment, health and safety agencies. The total bill, if approved by the court at a March 2 hearing, will come to $3.4 million.

Additionally, Target has agreed to implement a statewide program to comply with regulations governing hazardous waste disposal, provide better training for its employees on how to comply with these laws and hire an independent auditor to check compliance for three years.

In a statement released to the media, Target said it has “a comprehensive program to ensure [that] our handling, storage, disposal and documentation of hazardous materials complies with California law. We train our store teams regularly as part of this program. We will continue to devote substantial resources in order to remain a responsible corporate steward of the environment."

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