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Judge Orders Target to Stop Dumping Hazardous Waste

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Tuesday September 28, 2010 - 10:38:00 AM

An Oakland judge has issued a preliminary injunction barring Target Corp. and employees at its 244 stores in California from illegally dumping hazardous waste into the environment. 

The ruling by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven Brick on Friday prohibits Target and its employees from using unregistered haulers to transport hazardous waste and from transporting hazardous waste without the required manifests. 

It also bars the company from illegally managing and disposing of universal waste such as batteries, telephones, and computer and electronic equipment. 

In his ruling on a lawsuit filed last year by California Attorney General Jerry Brown, 20 district attorneys in the state, and the city attorneys of Los Angeles and San Diego, Brick said the plaintiffs "have shown a high likelihood of prevailing on their clam that hazardous waste was disposed of." 

The issuance of the preliminary injunction allows prosecutors to seek sanctions against Target for any violation of the court order. 

The lawsuit also asks that Target forfeit profits generated by cutting corners and pay penalties for its violations. 

Bay Area district attorneys who are participating in the suit are Nancy O'Malley of Alameda County, Robert Kochly of Contra Costa County, James Fox of San Mateo County, Dolores Carr of Santa Clara County, Dean Flippo of Monterey County and David Paulson of Solano County. 

In a prepared statement, Target, which is based in Minneapolis, 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." 

The company added, "We take any legal challenge to our program seriously and will continue to devote substantial resources in order to remain a responsible corporate steward of the environment." 

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Ken Misfud, who is one of the prosecutors working on the case, said Target hasn't indicated any interest in settling the suit, and that it's expected that the case will go to trial early next year. 

O'Malley said the lawsuit alleges that Target and its employees improperly disposed of various hazardous wastes and materials over a five-year period. 

She said the illegally disposed of materials included bleach, pesticides, oven cleaners, paint, aerosols and other toxic, flammable and corrosive materials. 

According to O'Malley, California law requires companies to store, handle, and dispose of hazardous wastes and materials in specified ways to avoid contamination of the environment. 

But she said prosecutors allege that Target routinely ignored those laws in an effort to cut costs. 

The suit alleges that Target employees disposed of defective, damaged, and leaking chemical products directly into the trash. 

O'Malley said prosecutors believe that instead of sending tons of hazardous waste and contaminated materials to authorized disposal sites, Target crushed them along with discarded merchandise and garbage at its store compactors and then sent them to area landfills. 

"Target's unlawful actions have put the health Alameda County residents at risk," O'Malley said in a statement. "The violation of our State's environmental protection laws will not be tolerated." 

O'Malley said the investigation into Target began in 2005 with the help of her office, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, and many other environmental health agencies statewide.