Wal-Mart pleads guilty to federal environmental crimes

May 29, 2013

walmart3Wal-Mart has admitted to violating criminal and civil laws to protect water quality and agreed to pay more than $110 million in fines.

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.




  1. MaryMalone says:

    r0y, please don’t attempt to minimize Wal-Mart’s violations. Corporations who violate the Clean Water Act don’t need to be demonized by others–the behaviors of the corporations are demonizing themselves.

    The Clean Water Act violations need to be prosecuted and fined. It is what we have now to deal with sociopathic corporations like Wal-Mart.

    We, the People, will be the ones who will pay for this type of “I-got-mine-who-cares-about-you” attitude of the Wal-Marts.

    Indeed, we are already paying for the previous water contamination of big corporations. Supply and demand sets water pricing. The demand is not going to decrease. If we are lucky, rigorous water conservation may help offset the ever-increasing demand for water. If the supply is decreased because of contamination, it is going to drive up the cost. The increase in cost will be passed on to you and I.


    Water is the driving force of all nature.
    –Leondardo da Vinci

    (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
  2. The Gimlet Eye says:

    Too big to fail—–too big to be prosecuted:–(

    (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
  3. Jorge Estrada says:

    The answer is obvious, nobody goes to jail, just pay the fine. $110 million, that’s a fine? How many acres of plastic crap, made in China by slaves, will they have to sell to cover this cost of doing business and thats OK?

    (-5) 13 Total Votes - 4 up - 9 down
    • SLOBIRD says:

      Actually, it was $81.6 million ($20 million overstated give or take) and add to that the $4 million Kellogg’s will pay for their false advertising regarding Mini-Wheats and the government just got another $85.6 million of taxpayers money. If course we will all be paying for these fines at the check-out stand, so who cares other than the consumer..

      (6) 12 Total Votes - 9 up - 3 down
  4. OhHenry says:

    I’m no Wal Mart fan, but really? $110 MILLION dollars for 6 “misdemeanor counts of negligently violating the Clean Water Act”? I am not condoning illegal disposal of hazardous chemicals in any way, but gee wiz, this looks like a witch hunt for those government programs looking for a cash cow and a scape goat.

    (10) 18 Total Votes - 14 up - 4 down
    • r0y says:

      Ever throw away a compact fluorescent bulb? You, too are in violation of a plethora of regulations.

      It’s the new way to pad their overly-fat wallets and pensions: fine the hell out of everyone. It is the cost of doing business in a fascist society. If your company has not joined the Fascist Branch of our government, prepare to have fines and fees levied that put you out of business.

      I used to think Bush and Obama were socialists (or communist in O’s case), but I think they just were laying the framework for a fascist regime. Think Italy circa 1930. I’d say it’s starting, but we know it’s been going on for some time.

      (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      Wa-lMart thumbed its nose at the Clean Water Act on a nation-wide basis. WE, the taxpayers, will end up ultimately paying for Wal-Mart’s avarice, greed, and complete disregard for the environment in which we live. It is corporate sociopathy at its worst.

      We have a nationwide shortage of potable (drinking) water. The cost of water is skyrocketing, and it is only going to get worse. The availability of water impacts every part of our society. Without sufficient potable water, America’s future is in peril.

      In California, for the majority of users, the major collection “facility” for water being delivered from Northern California (where there is more water) to Southern California (where there is less water) is the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta (“Delta”).

      The Delta’s future is at peril due to infrastructure and environmental issues. To address this, a bypass tunnel is planned to divert water from the Sacramento River, transporting it under the the Delta, to pumps which will move it southward.

      It is estimated that, in Southern California, the costs for the construction of the bypass tunnel project will add–as it stands now–an extra $84/year to each residential users’ water bill….and that does not include the costs of maintenance, administration and other related project costs over its 50-year lifespan.

      Violations of the Clean Water Act involve behaviors that contaminate our existing water supply. Contamination of our existing water supply simply decreases the amount of available potable (drinking) water. The future of America depends on having sufficient potable water. To have a nation-wide chain store put profits before the best interests of our entire nation is heinous, and puts the future of our nation at risk.

      When Wal-Mart thumbs its nose at the Clean Water Act, it is thumbing its nose at the future of America. That is the kind of corporate sociopathy none of us can afford.

      (0) 2 Total Votes - 1 up - 1 down
    • OhHenry says:

      Here is a link to another article which gives much more detail of the Wal Mart violations. I remember a few years ago when I worked part time at Home Depot (for some unknown reason) they had a mandated training and locations to properly dispose of spilled or damaged pesticides and other hazardous spills. It appears that Wal Mart did not have such a program. I still think that the fines are massive. Wal Mart will just raise prices for a while to recoup the money and its customers will pay for this fine(s).

      (-1) 1 Total Votes - 0 up - 1 down
  5. Pelican1 says:

    It;s sad to see the continued abuse and destruction of our environment at the hands of these billion dollar businesses. BP, PG&E, Unocal, Wal-Mart…the list goes on and on.

    (-3) 19 Total Votes - 8 up - 11 down
    • cvr says:

      For every ounce of “hazardous material” that wal mart employees dumped, a home owner somewhere dumped a gallon. These material are the same ones that we all dump into our toilets to clean them, over-apply to our over-irrigated lawns to keep them weed free and vibrantly green. I am no tree hugger, but wal mart is not the biggest offender in this case.. we all are.

      (14) 26 Total Votes - 20 up - 6 down
      • easymoney says:

        Very well put…
        Most are not aware or do not care about what is in the products they buy and use daily…

        (2) 2 Total Votes - 2 up - 0 down
      • MaryMalone says:

        The future of our nation rests on the availability of clean drinking water. To help ensure a future source of sufficient water for our country, there are federal and state laws which attempts to limit additional contamination of our water sources. One of those laws is the Clean Water Act.

        The Clean Water Act is one of several federal and state laws to address water contamination. The Clean Water Act addresses specific point sources of water contamination. They are:

        ***Municipal governments (i.e., local government agencies), including military bases.

        ***Industrial facilities (i.e., manufacturing, extraction of gas and oil, and the service sectors / tertiary sectors, which includes services for the final consumer; for instance, this would include transportation and sale to customers).

        **Certain types of agricultural operations, such as feedlots.

        The Clean Water Act does not address all sources and types of water contamination. For instance, the Clean Water Act doesn’t directly deal with groundwater contamination (addressed by other laws), nor does it deal with water contamination by individual customers of local government agencies.

        However, point sources covered by the Clean Water Act (such as local government agencies which provide water and wastewater-treatment services), often do a great deal to inform and encourage their customers to “think before you flush.” This is because the local government agencies must not exceed regulations for amounts of certain individual contaminates that leave their treatment facilities. If they do exceed the limits, then if exceeding the limit warrants fining, they are usually fined.

        To ensure our future water supply, state and federal laws (including the Clean Water Act) must be enforced, prosecuted and appropriate penalties levied.

        (1) 1 Total Votes - 1 up - 0 down
    • r0y says:

      Pelican, the whole “scandalous” evil big corporation violating environmental laws is worded and crafted to fire people up to respond like you just did. The reality is often MUCH, MUCH less.

      If we were truly concerned about the environment, we’d stop making photo-voltaic cells (well, we can’t make ’em here, so china does it), electric cars, etc. Most “green” energy devices pollute MASSIVELY for what tiny bit of energy they produce. But that is not consistent with the narrative.

      (5) 9 Total Votes - 7 up - 2 down

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