Walmart Pleads Guilty in Hazardous Waste Case
Walmart agreed to pay about $82 million yesterday after pleading guilty to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous waste at its retail stores across the US.
The company also pleaded guilty yesterday 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.
Coupled with previous actions brought by the states of California and Missouri for the same conduct, Walmart will pay a combined total of more than $110 million to resolve cases alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws.
According to documents filed in US District Court in San Francisco, from a date unknown until January 2006, Walmart 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 US.
Walmart says these incidents occurred years ago and it has since designed and implemented comprehensive environmental programs.
Phyllis Harris, Walmart senior vice president and chief compliance officer, says the company has a “comprehensive and industry-leading hazardous waste program,” that, in many respects, goes beyond compliance with environmental laws.
Walmart 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.
As part of a plea agreement filed in California yesterday, Walmart was sentenced to pay a $40 million criminal fine and an additional $20 million that will fund various community service projects, including opening a $6 million Retail Compliance Assistance Center that will help retail stores across the nation learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.
According to a plea agreement filed in Kansas City, beginning in 2006, Walmart began sending certain damaged household products, including regulated solid and liquid pesticides, from its six return centers to Greenleaf, a recycling facility located in Neosho, Mo., where the products were processed for reuse and resale. Because Walmart 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 FIFRA.
Between July 2006 and February 2008, Wal-Mart trucked more than 2 million pounds of regulated pesticides and additional household products from its various return centers to Greenleaf. In November 2008, Greenleaf was also convicted of a FIFRA violation and paid a criminal penalty of $200,000 in 2009.
Pursuant to the plea agreement filed in Missouri, Walmart agreed to pay a criminal fine of $11 million and to pay another $3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which will go to that agency’s Hazardous Waste Program and will be used to fund further inspections and education on pesticide regulations for regulators, the regulated community and the public. In addition, Walmart has already spent more than $3.4 million to properly remove and dispose of all hazardous material from Greenleaf’s facility.
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