Wal-Mart pleads guilty to environmental crimes
Federal charges stem from hazmat handling, disposal
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay $86.1 million in fines after pleading guilty yesterday to federal environmental crimes and civil violations. Coupled with previous actions brought by California, Missouri and the EPA for related offenses, Wal-Mart will pay a combined total of more than $110 to resolve charges against the company.
Wal-Mart admitted to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States and to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers at its stores across the country.
Hazardous waste poured into sewers
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, 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 – actions which U.S. attorneys said put communities at environmental risk.
Two million pounds of pesticides
“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 the Western District of Missouri. “Today’s criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws. Additionally, Wal-Mart’s community service payment will fund important environmental projects in Missouri to help prevent such abuses in the future.”
Those projects include opening a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help retail stores across the nation learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.
Wal-Mart owns more than 4,000 stores nationwide that sell thousands of products which are flammable, corrosive, reactive, toxic or otherwise hazardous under federal law. The products that contain hazardous materials include pesticides, solvents, detergents, paints, aerosols and cleaners. Once discarded, these products are considered hazardous waste under federal law.
Company agrees to train employees
In addition to the penalties, Wal-Mart is required to implement a comprehensive, nationwide environmental compliance agreement to manage hazardous waste generated at its stores. The 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.
For more information about the case go to: www.epa.gov/enforcement/waste/cases/walmart.html