Wal-Mart Stores has pleaded guilty to illegally disposing of hazardous materials at its U.S. retail stores and will pay $81 million for its six negligent violations of the Clean Water Act, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In a related case, the company pleaded guilty in Missouri to disposing of pesticides that had been returned by customers in violation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. All in all, the company pleaded guilty in three criminal cases brought by the federal government. Its criminal fine in the case stands at $11 million, and Wal-Mart will also give the Missouri Department of Natural Resources $3 million for its hazardous waste program.
In a separate civil case, the retailer will pay a penalty of $7.628 million.
The violations of the Clean Water Act were originally brought against Wal-Mart by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco, but the two cases were later consolidated in the Northern District of California. Wal-Mart’s fine includes $20 million to fund various community service projects. The court found that until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a proper hazardous waste management program in place. This lead to improperly discarded waste materials.
“As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at the store level — including being put into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system — or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States,” according to an EPA release.
The states of California and Missouri had previously charged Wal-Mart with similar violations, and the retailer paid out more than $28 million to resolve those issues.
“As one of the largest retailers in the United States, Wal-Mart is responsible not only for the stock on its shelves, but also for the significant amount of hazardous materials that result from damaged products returned by customers,” Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California, said in a statement. “The crimes in these cases stem from Wal-Mart's failure to comply with the regulations designed to ensure the proper handling, storage and disposal of those hazardous materials and waste. With its guilty plea today, Wal-Mart is in a position to be an industry leader by ensuring that not only Wal-Mart, but all retail stores properly handle their waste.” - Jon Ross