Mega-retail company Wal-Mart plead guilty on Tuesday for Clean Water Act violations that involved years of illegally and improperly handling hazardous liquids and pesticides in California and Missouri. The company is on the hook for $81.6 million in criminal environmental fines for violating federal laws and another $30 million to resolve state environmental law violations.
Documents from the U.S. District Court in San Francisco say that "from a date unknown until January 2006, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level. 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."
In Missouri, Wal-Mart employees improperly handled pesticides that customers had returned. "Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than 2 million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart's contract," said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Attorney for Western District of Missouri.
In 2006, Wal-Mart began sending certain damaged household products, including regulated solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf LLC, a recycling facility located in Neosho, Mo., where the products were processed for reuse and resale. Because Wal-Mart employees failed to provide adequate oversight of the pesticides sent to Greenleaf, regulated pesticides were mixed together and offered for sale to customers without the required registration, ingredients, or use information, which constitutes a violation of Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, or FIFRA.
For all of these violations, Wal-Mart will pay roughly $110 million in criminal fines, at least $20 million of which will go to community service projects and programs to train people on how to legally handle hazardous waste. Their plea agreement includes requirements to ensure adequate environmental personnel and training at all levels of the company, proper identification and management of hazardous wastes, and the development and implementation of Environmental Management Systems at its stores and return centers. Compliance with this agreement is a condition of probation imposed in the criminal cases.