Wal-Mart pleads guilty to federal environmental crimes
May 29, 2013
As part of a multi-million case against the world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco 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.
“Federal laws that address the proper handling, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes exist to safeguard our environment and protect the public from harm,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “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. The case against Wal-Mart is designed to ensure compliance with our nation’s environmental laws now and in the future.”
According to documents filed in United States District Court, 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.
“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,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “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.”
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.
Wal-Mart pleaded guilty this morning in San Francisco to six misdemeanor counts of negligently violating the Clean Water Act. The six criminal 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 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero. Pursuant to a plea agreement filed in California, Wal-Mart 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.
As part of the $20 million community service payment in California, Wal-Mart will pay $9 million – $4.5 million in both the Central District of California and the Northern District of California – to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. That money will be used to provide long-term funding for environmental projects, initiatives and enforcement activities designed for the benefit, preservation and restoration of the environment, watersheds and ecosystems.