Target Corp. has agreed to pay $22.5 million to settle a multiyear government investigation into the alleged dumping of hazardous waste by the retail chain, according to court documents filed this week.
The settlement, pending final approval by a judge, is part of a bigger push by prosecutors throughout the state to crack down on environmental violations by big-box retailers and follows multimillion-dollar settlements in recent years with Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot.
Under the tentative agreement, the Minneapolis-based retail giant admits no wrongdoing but will pay about $3.4 million to the California attorney general's office. Smaller sums will go to city attorneys in Los Angeles and San Diego as well as district attorney's offices in 20 counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange.
Target has also agreed to implement a statewide program to enforce compliance with waste disposal laws, train employees in legal ways to handle hazardous sludge and pay an independent auditor to check compliance for three years.
In a statement released Friday, Target said it "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. We will continue to devote substantial resources in order to remain a responsible corporate steward of the environment."
The investigation began in 2005 after Target, which operates more than 60 stores in Los Angeles County and 236 locations in the state, was hit with repeated violations of California's hazardous waste disposal laws.
Violations included improper storage, transportation and disposal of bleach, paint, pesticides, batteries, lightbulbs and other hazardous materials. Prosecutors accused the retail giant of cutting corners for the bottom line. 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.
Stores also kept incompatible and combustible liquids like ammonia and bleach side-by-side on shelves and poured them into dumpsters mixed together, creating fire and other safety hazards, prosecutors said.
Target also allegedly fobbed off even more waste in bulk donations to local charities, including the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which received more than 5,000 pounds of unusable, flammable and toxic products in 2008, prosecutors said.
Then-California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, along with the district and city attorneys, sued the retailer in 2009 in Alameda County Superior Court, and an injunction was issued last September to halt the illegal disposal of hazardous waste at all Target locations in California.
Prosecutors said that investigations are still underway into environmental violations by other big box retailers and that such practices, designed to cut corporate costs at the expense of public welfare, are systemic among retail giants.