Oakland -- Fighting to protect Californians from exposure to "toxic and corrosive" chemicals, Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., 20 district attorneys and the Los Angeles City Attorney today filed legal action against Target Corporation to block the retailer from continuing to illegally dump hazardous waste in local landfills.
Separately, Brown and the Riverside, Ventura and San Joaquin County District Attorneys have forged a settlement with Kmart over similar claims, requiring the company to stop disposing toxic substances in landfills and pay more than $8.65 million in civil penalties, costs and funding for projects to improve environmental protection in California.
"Target has shown a willful disregard for California's hazardous waste laws by dumping flammable liquids and toxic chemicals in local landfills over a period of eight years," Brown said. "If successful, this lawsuit would force Target to comply with state laws governing the lawful handling and disposal of toxic and corrosive waste."
"By contrast, Kmart has cooperated, agreed to live up to its obligations under the law and will train its employees to properly handle and dispose of hazardous waste."
Target currently operates more than 200 retail stores and seven distribution centers in California. The retailer carries and handles hundreds of items with hazardous properties, including: bleach, paints, pesticides, aerosol products, oven cleaners and automotive products.
Under California law, Target is responsible for properly handling and disposing of products that are damaged during shipping or stocking, returned to the store by customers or removed because they are past their expiration date.
Target is also required under law to employ a licensed hazardous waste hauler to pick up the waste and transport it to a hazardous waste disposal facility. This ensures that hazardous waste will not end up at local landfills where toxic chemicals can seep into California's water supplies or emit dangerous gases.
Since 2001, however, local environmental health inspectors have served Target with more than 300 Notices of Violation (NOVs) for breaking California's hazardous waste control laws.
In March 2006, the Attorney General's Office launched an investigation into Target's practices in conjunction with district attorneys throughout the state after local store inspections revealed ongoing violations. Violations include:
- In May 2009, an Alameda County Target store sent flammable aerosol canisters, propane canisters, light bulbs containing mercury, corrosive spray cleaners and medical waste to a local landfill not authorized to receive such waste.
- In March 2009, a San Bernardino County Target store sent a photo processing unit with toxic liquid and other hazardous materials to a local landfill not authorized to receive such waste.
- In December 2008, a Target employee in San Joaquin County informed county inspectors that hazardous waste, including pesticides, were routinely disposed of in the store's trash compactor for transportation to a local landfill not authorized to receive such waste.
- In January 2008, investigators discovered that multiple Los Angeles County Target stores sent several tons of products that could not be sold, to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank. The shipments contained over 5,000 pounds of damaged, leaking and unusable items with flammable, toxic and corrosive properties. A licensed hazardous waste hauler had to be dispatched to the food bank to properly handle the hazardous waste at a cost of over $5,000.
- In March 2002, a Sacramento County Target employee dumped leaking containers of liquid pool chlorine into the store's trash compactor. The chlorine reacted with other chemicals in the compactor and toxic fumes were released into the air. This led to the store's evacuation, an emergency response and several individuals were transported to local hospitals.
This joint investigation found that Target stores across California have illegally dumped thousands of pounds of hazardous waste in local landfills. Target was cited by local environmental health inspectors for violations of environmental laws as recently as last month.
Brown, the 20 district attorneys and the Los Angeles City Attorney are suing Target for:
- Intentional and negligent disposal of hazardous waste at a point not authorized in violation of California's Health and Safety Code;
- Intentional and negligent unauthorized transportation of hazardous waste in violation of California's Health and Safety Code;
- Intentional and negligent violations of Hazardous Waste Control Laws for Hazardous Waste Handling Training and Storage Requirements in violation of California's Health and Safety Code;
- Knowing violations of Hazardous Materials Release Response Plans and Inventory Laws in violation of California's Health and Safety Code; and
- Violations of Unfair Competition Laws.
This lawsuit would require Target to immediately comply with California law and start using a licensed hazardous waste hauler to pick up the waste and transport it to a hazardous waste disposal facility. Additionally, the lawsuit seeks $25,000 maximum penalties for each violation.
The 20 district attorneys who signed onto today's lawsuit include: Alameda County D.A. Tom Orloff; Contra Costa County D.A. Robert J. Kochly; Fresno County D.A. Elizabeth A. Egan; Humboldt County D.A. Paul V. Gallegos; Kings County D.A. Ronald Calhoun; Los Angeles County D.A. Steve Cooley; Merced County D.A. Larry D. Morse II; Monterey County D.A. Dean D. Flippo; Orange County D.A. Tony Rackauckas; Riverside County D.A. Rod Pacheco; Sacramento County D.A. Jan Scully; San Bernardino County D.A. Michael A. Ramos; San Diego County D.A. Bonnie M. Dumanis; San Joaquin County D.A. James P. Willett; San Mateo County D.A. James P. Fox; Santa Clara D.A. Dolores A. Carr; Solano County D.A. David W. Paulson; Stanislaus County D.A. Birgit A. Fladager; Ventura Country D.A. Gregory D. Totten; and Yolo County D.A. Jeff W. Reisig. Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo also signed onto the lawsuit.
Today's complaint against Target, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, is attached.
Kmart currently operates 100 retail stores throughout California. The retailer carries and handles hundreds of items with hazardous properties, such as: latex and acrylic paints, pesticides, fertilizers, aerosols, pool chemicals, jewelry cleaners, auto batteries and waste oil.
In 2005, the Riverside County District Attorney's Office initiated a formal investigation into Kmart's hazardous waste handling practices. Subsequently, the Attorney General's Office joined the investigation, which uncovered that Kmart had failed to account for most of the hazardous waste it generated between 2002 and 2007.
The investigation found that:
- In December 2006, a Kmart in Ventura County dumped liquid waste down drains.
- On two separate occasions in 2006, a San Joaquin County Kmart as well as a Ventura County Kmart sent waste oil generated at the stores to private oil change companies instead of disposing of the waste oil at an authorized disposal location.
- In 2005, a Kmart in Riverside sent 32 gallons of flammable latex paint, nine bottles of flammable STP Water Remover, 11 cans of flammable spray paint, and one can of flammable Armor All Tire Foam to a local landfill not authorized to receive such waste. Fortunately, the waste was intercepted at a transfer station.
Brown's office contends the company violated California's:
- Hazardous Waste Control Law by sending multiple flammable and hazardous waste for disposal at local landfills and failing to properly train its employees in handling hazardous waste;
- Hazardous Materials Release Response Plans and Inventory Act by failing to submit required reporting records from 2004-2007; and
- Unfair Competition Laws.
The settlement prohibits Kmart from sending hazardous and flammable materials to landfills, and requires it to properly train its employees to comply with California's hazardous materials and hazardous waste laws. Additionally, Kmart must properly label, segregate and store its hazardous waste.
Under the settlement, Kmart must pay $8.65 million in civil penalties, costs and funding for projects to improve environmental protection in California.
A copy of the complaint and stipulated judgment, filed in Ventura County Superior Court, is attached.