California sues Target for hazardous waste dumping

In the constant fight to protect our environment, it's one suit over, another just beginning. Soon after settling a toxic dumping suit with Kmart, owned by Sears Holdings (SHLD), for $8.65 million, California is going after Target Corp. (TGT) with a similar allegation.

To stop hazardous and toxic waste from further polluting the environment, California law requires proper disposal of such materials in a hazardous waste facility. Judging from the number of suits by the state, though, it seems that businesses often do not follow the law. No doubt, such disposal is costly, so companies are motivated to skirt the law.
No more, California says. Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, along with 20 district attorneys and the Los Angeles City Attorney, sued the retail giant on Monday, accusing it of illegally dumping hazardous waste in local landfills over the last eight years. What took them so long is not clear. (A pdf copy of the suit is here.)

Target's 200 stores and warehouses in California allegedly violated the state law by dumping damaged or returned stock of pesticides, propane canisters and other chemical waste, each violation carrying a maximum penalty of $25,000. There have been over 300 of them during the past eight years -- you do the math.

While Brown claims that "Target has shown a willful disregard for California's hazardous-waste laws," Target, of course, says it is "disappointed" since it has been cooperating with authorities over the past three years. Target spokeswoman Bethany Zucco said in a statement, "We are proud to have a best-in-class program for proper handling and disposal of environmentally sensitive products."

But the suit contains some allegations that are nothing to be proud of. According to the suit, Target, among other citations, "
sent several tons of unsaleable items to a local food bank, including more than 5,000 pounds of defective and leaking products that were flammable, toxic or corrosive. A hazardous waste hauler was called in to dispose of the items at a cost of $5,000."

Kmart and Target are not alone in this regard. Exactly a year ago, the United States government and the state of Oklahoma filed a complaint against 44 companies (pdf) -- including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT), Sears, American Airlines (AMR) and Halliburton (HAL) to name a few -- for releasing hazardous waste to the Double Eagle Superfund site in Oklahoma City, OK. (via Walmart Watch).

And this problem is not limited to giant corporations. Some may remember the suit against Dave Matthews band. If you happened to be enjoying a boat tour on the Chicago River back in 2004, you got a shower of "80 to 100 gallons of liquid human waste" courtesy of the band's tour bus driving on the bridge above. The band settled for $200,000, taking full responsibility at least.

It's high time companies acted more responsibly, but authorities need to get much more vigilant too. Laws, bylaws and rules mean nothing if they're not enforced. Companies need to know it will be more expensive if they do not adhere to the law, not cheaper.
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