Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges on Tuesday for dumping hazardous waste from Wal-Mart stores into sanitation drains across California. As part of the plea deal, the company has been ordered to pay $81 million in fines, which will also cover charges to the company in Missouri. They also pleaded guilty in the Western District of Missouri for violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) after improperly handling pesticides.
The investigation into Wal-Mart’s waste-dumping practices began eight years ago when a San Diego health department worker witnessed a Wal-Mart employee pouring bleach down a drain. The investigation ultimately concluded that the chain had improperly dumped hazardous waste in 16 California counties between 2003 and 2005. Due to the lack of training for employees on how to properly dispose of hazardous waste, the pollutants were dumped into trash bins and poured into the local sewer systems. Waste was also taken product return centers without proper documentation.
Both incidents are eerily similar to an episode in 2010 when the company paid out $27.6 million in fines in for improperly dumping fertilizer, pesticide, paint, aerosols and other chemicals. The fines sparked an overhaul of the company’s hazardous waste compliance program, which at the time Wal-Mart claimed to have resolved it’s illegal dumping procedures. However, the recent charges against the company paint a different picture.
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan claims that the company has finally provided the proper training to its employees on disposing of hazardous waste. She says employees are trained how to clean up, transport, and dispose of pollutants that have been spilled or have damaged packages.
“We have fixed the problem,” said Buchanan. “We are obviously happy that this is the final resolution.”
After three incidents and hefty fines, hopefully Wal-Mart, Inc. will finally take the hint and comply with proper hazardous waste dumping procedures.
Krysta Loera is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow her on Twitter @KrystaLoera