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Wal-Mart to Pay $81M in Hazardous Waste Cases

Thursday, May 30, 2013

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Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has admitted to improperly disposing of paints, aerosols, pesticides and other hazardous waste at its stores across the country and will pay more than $81 million to resolve a handful of cases.

The Bentonville, AR-based retail giant pleaded guilty Tuesday (May 28) to several federal environmental crimes and civil violations in California and Missouri, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced.

In total, Wal-Mart agreed to pay approximately $81.6 million to settle three criminal cases brought by the U.S. Justice Department, and a related civil case filed by the EPA.

Jared C. Benedict / Wikimedia Commons

Prior to 2006, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at the store level, authorities said.

“Retailers like Wal-Mart that generate hazardous waste have a duty to legally and safely dispose of that hazardous waste, and dumping it down the sink was neither legal nor safe,” said André Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California.

Illegal Disposal

Specifically, the retailer pleaded guilty to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the U.S. Those misdemeanor charges were filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles and San Francisco (each office filed three charges), and the two cases were consolidated in the Northern District of California, where the guilty pleas were formally entered.

In a separate case, Wal-Mart also pleaded guilty in Kansas City, MO, to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle more than 2 million pounds of pesticides that customers had returned to stores nationwide.

In conjunction with the guilty pleas, Wal-Mart has also agreed to pay a $7.628 million civil penalty to resolve civil violations of FIFRA and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), EPA noted.

Wikimedia Commons

Wal-Mart employees were alleged to have poured hazardous liquid waste into local sewer systems in violation of the Clean Water Act.

“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,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. 

Wal-Mart owns more than 4,000 stores nationwide that sell thousands of products that 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.

Disposal Problems

Prior to 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, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

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 were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the U.S., according to the EPA.

Specifically, from 2006 to 2008, the retailer sent damaged and returned consumer products, including pesticides, which were regulated as hazardous waste to a facility in Neosho, MO, where the items were recycled, repackaged and relabeled for resale, the authorities said.

Wal-Mart truck
Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The company violated federal laws in handling and transporting more than 2 million pounds of pesticides that customers had returned to its stores nationwide.

That facility, operated by the third-party management company Greenleaf, did not have the necessary FIFRA registrations or the capacity to handle all of the products set to it by Wal-Mart. Moreover, Wal-Mart’s shipments of damaged containers of pesticides resulted in additional FIFRA violations, the agency said.

Problems Addressed

In a detailed statement, Wal-Mart maintained that it had established procedures and controls, added employee training on proper waste disposal, and created a compliance department.

“The incidents on which the charges are based occurred years ago and involved the transportation and disposal of common consumer products,” the company said.

It added that “no specific environmental impact has been alleged and since then, Wal-Mart designed and implemented comprehensive environmental programs that remain in place today.”

Fines Detailed

Together, the plea agreements and administrative resolution call for Wal-Mart to pay an aggregate amount of nearly $82 million consisting of the following payments:  

  • $60 million for misdemeanor Clean Water Act violations in California ($40 million criminal fine and $20 million community service payments);
  • $14 million in Missouri for a misdemeanor Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act violation ($11 million fine and $3 million in community service payments); and
  • A $7.6 million civil penalty to EPA to settle charges for FIFRA ($1.5 million) and RCRA violations ($6.1 million).

The retailer will pay more than $110 million when adding the nearly $82 million to previous settlements of state cases brought by California and Missouri in 2010 and 2012 for the same conduct.

The company said the payments would not impact Wal-Mart’s second-quarter performance and “will not be material to the company’s financial position.”


Tagged categories: Clean Water Act; Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); Good Technical Practice; hazardous materials; Hazardous waste; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Paint disposal; Regulations

Comment from Tim Race, (5/30/2013, 3:05 PM)

as if I needed another reason not to shop there .....

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