Officials with Walmart pleaded guilty this week to mishandling hazardous materials at retail stores in Missouri and California -- and as a result will have to pay a total of more than $110 million in fines to resolve these cases. The company, authorities say, violated a slew of federal and state environmental laws.
"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," Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the justice department's environment and natural resources division says in a statement. "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."
What kind of violations occurred in Missouri?
On Tuesday, the company pleaded guilty in Kansas City to violating the so-called Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by "failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers at its stores," the department of justice says in a news release.
The guilty plea this week comes after the department brought forward three criminal cases against Walmart -- in addition to a similar civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The company, authorities say, did not have a program in place and failed to train employees on proper disposal practices for hazardous wastes:
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.
Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the western district of Missouri, released this statement on the plea agreement:
This tough financial penalty holds Wal-Mart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment.
Truckloads of hazardous products, including more than 2 million pounds of pesticides, were improperly handled under Wal-Mart's contract. 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.
In the Missouri case, Walmart acknowledged that starting in 2006, it began sending damaged household products -- including regulated solid and liquid pesticides -- from six return centers to a Neosho-based recycling facility. There, products were processed for reuse and resale, but because employees didn't provide adequate oversight, "regulated pesticides were mixed together and offered for sale to customers without the required registration, ingredients, or use information," the department of justice says.
In Missouri, Walmart will pay a criminal fine of $11 million and another $3 million to the state department of natural resources. That funding will go to the agency's hazardous-waste program to be used for further inspections and education on pesticide regulations.
Walmart has already spent more than $3.4 million in the state to safely remove hazardous material from the Missouri recycling facility. The fines in both states add up to $81.6 million, authorities say, and given previous actions in Missouri and California, Walmart will eventually have paid a total of more than $110 million to fully resolve the various violations.
Continue for response from Walmart and for the full statements on the plea agreement.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.