Target to Pay $22.5M to Settle Toxic Waste Case

The retailer, which was accused of violating environmental regulations pertaining to hazardous waste, has agreed to pay millions to settle a California lawsuit, but it has not admitted to any wrongdoing.

Minneapolis-based retail giant Target Corporation has agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a lawsuit through which the company has been accused of improperly disposing of hazardous material from its stores and distribution centers in California.

The Attorney General's office in California began investigating Target's transportation and disposal practices about five years ago-and in June 2009, Edmund Brown, California's Attorney General at the time, joined forces with 20 of the state's district attorneys and sued the retailer in the Superior Court of California in Alameda County.

In its investigation, the office noted violations involving shipping aerosol canisters, propane canisters, light bulbs containing mercury, corrosive spray cleaners, and medical waste to unauthorized landfills in the state. Court documents list more than 250 Target facilities in California, and violations allegedly took place at many of these facilities throughout the state.

Recently filed court documents indicate that prosecutors and Target have agreed to settle the dispute, and if the proposed settlement is approved by a judge, the retailer will be required to pay a total of $22.5 million.

According to prosecutors, the settlement will help avoid prolonged litigation, provides funds for a number of programs with statewide benefits, and requires Target to conduct three annual third-party environmental compliance audits.

Target did not admit to any wrongdoing in the settlement, but it agreed to pay $17 million in civil penalties, about $3 million to recover costs incurred by the state's Attorney General's office and other city and district attorneys, and roughly $2.5 million to be disbursed to “supplemental environmental projects”-which includes funding programs designed to enforce California's hazardous waste disposal laws.

Under the terms of the agreement, Target is also required to comply with hazardous waste regulations. It must determine at each of its facilities whether items returned by customers-as well as waste from spills or broken containers-should be defined as “hazardous waste” and disposed of accordingly. The company may not transport hazardous waste on its trucks that are not properly licensed to do so, and it must dispose of all accumulated hazardous waste at any of its facilities at least once every 90 days, among other safety measures.

“Target has a comprehensive program to ensure our handling, storage, disposal, and documentation of hazardous materials complies with California law, and we train our store teams regularly as part of this program,” the retailer said in an e-mailed statement. “We will continue to devote substantial resources in order to remain a responsible corporate steward of the environment.”

Target is Minnesota's second-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $65.4 billion for the fiscal year that ended in January 2010. It operates 1,750 stores in 49 states.