Wal-Mart Stores Inc. must pay approximately $81.6 million for illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at stores across the U.S. after pleading guilty to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act, as well as a separate case involving the improper handling of over 2 million pounds of pesticides and a related civil suit filed by the EPA.
Coupled with previous fines resulting from actions brought by California and Missouri for the same conduct, Wal-Mart owes more than $110 million for federal and state violations.
Documents filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco allege that from an unknown date until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program for hazardous waste management and disposal in place and failed to train employees on proper hazardous waste practices at the store level. That meant that hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at several stores – including being put into municipal trash bins or poured into the local sewer system – or they were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers. This case was later merged with a similar one in Los Angeles.
“By improperly handling hazardous waste, pesticides and other materials in violation of federal laws, Wal-Mart put the public and the environment at risk and gained an unfair economic advantage over other companies,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “Today, Wal-Mart acknowledged responsibility for violations of federal laws and will pay significant fines and penalties, which will, in part, fund important environmental projects in the communities impacted by the violations and help prevent future harm to the environment.”
The Clean Water Act violations in San Francisco and Los Angeles alone resulted in a $40 million criminal fine, plus an additional $20 million for community projects. This includes a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center, which will assist retail stores nationwide with hazardous waste handling.
The pesticide case, which Wal-Mart pleaded guilty to in the Western District of Missouri, involved violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). According to the plea agreement filed in Kansas City, in 2006 Wal-Mart began to send damaged household products, including solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf LLC, a recycling facility in Neosho, MO that processed them for reuse and resale. However, Wal-Mart employees did not provide adequate oversight of the pesticides, which resulted in pesticides being mixed together and put up for sale without the mandatory registration, ingredients, or use information. Wal-Mart trucked more than 2 million pounds of pesticides and other household products to Greenleaf between July 2006 and February 2008.
This case resulted in a criminal fine of $11 million, as well as $3 million to be paid to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Hazardous Waste Program to fund further inspections and pesticide education. Wal-Mart has also spent over $3.4 million to remove hazardous material from Greenleaf’s facility and dispose of it properly.
The retailer must also pay a $7.628 million civil penalty to resolve its violations of FIFRA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and is also required to implement a comprehensive environmental compliance agreement to manage hazardous waste generated at all of its U.S. stores.