Wal-Mart Pleads Guilty in Water, FIFRA Case, Will Pay $82 Million Fine in Plea Agreement

By Anthony Adragna  


Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty May 28 to charges it violated the federal Clean Water Act at stores in California and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act at a recycling and repackaging operation in Missouri and will pay nearly $82 million as part of its plea agreements (United States v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., N.D. Cal., No. 3:13-00334, plea filed 5/28/13).

In an agreement entered in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty to illegal dumping of “corrosive and hazardous liquid wastes” in nine California counties between 2003 and 2005. According to court documents, the wastes were dumped from multiple retail stores into drains that led to publicly owned treatment works in violation of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1311(a); 1319(c)(1)(A)).

According to information filed in the case, the violations occurred in Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Lake, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Sonoma, and Santa Clara counties.

Text of the plea agreement was not immediately available.

The U.S. Justice Department said Wal-Mart improperly disposed of products considered hazardous under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, including pesticides, solvents, detergents, paints, aerosols, and cleaners.

Dumped Products Down Sinks

“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,” André Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. “The case against Wal-Mart is designed to ensure compliance with our nation's environmental laws now and in the future.”

Wal-Mart will pay $60 million to settle the charges in California, including a $40 million criminal fine and $20 million in community service payments. In addition, the U.S. Attorney's Offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco each charged Wal-Mart with three misdemeanors for “negligently” violating the Clean Water Act. The charges were then consolidated in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“We are pleased that this resolves all of these issues raised by the government,” Phyllis Harris, chief compliance officer for Walmart US, said in a statement.

Wal-Mart said the plea agreements “resolve compliance issues that took place years ago” and said it began an enhanced environmental compliance program with expanded and improved employee training in 2006.

Separate Missouri Plea

In a separate agreement, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty in Kansas City, Mo., to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned at stores around the country (United States v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., W.D. Mo., No. 4:13-cr-00135, plea entered 5/28/13).

According to the court, Wal-Mart contracted with a recycler in Missouri to repackage and resell liquid and solid pesticides that had been damaged during the normal course of business or returned to its stores.

Wal-Mart will pay an $11 million fine and provide $3 million in community service payments to settle the Missouri violations. The company also agreed to pay a $7.6 million civil penalty to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The agreement will not affect company operations and will not be material to its financial position, according to Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart agreed in May 2010 to pay $27.6 million to resolve similar state hazardous waste violations at 200 Wal-Mart retail centers, Sam's Club stores, and the company's distribution centers and storage facilities across California.