In a sweeping series of prosecutions, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty Tuesday in three cities to environmental crimes committed at its stores across the country.
In federal courts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the giant retailer admitted violations of the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its stores throughout the United States.
The Arkansas-based company admitted in federal court in Kansas City, Mo., violations of the Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by failing to properly handle pesticides returned to its stores by customers.
Wal-Mart will pay a combined total of more than $110 million including fines, assessments, civil penalties and community service payments funding projects to beef up enforcement of environmental regulations to resolve the three criminal cases, a related federal civil case, and similar civil actions brought by California and Missouri.
"This tough financial penalty holds Wal-Mart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment," said Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney in Kansas City.
According to documents filed in San Francisco federal court, before 2006 the company had no guidelines and no employee training on hazardous waste management and disposal. Toxic materials were routinely discarded into municipal trash bins or, if a liquid, poured into the local sewer system, the documents say.
In some cases, the papers say, the materials were transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers in 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 U. S. Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
"As one of the largest retailers in the United States, Wal-Mart is responsible not only for the stock on it shelves, but also for the significant amount of hazardous materials that result from damaged products returned by its customers," said Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney in San Francisco.
Call The Bee's Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.