Wal-Mart Stores Inc on Tuesday said it would pay nearly $81.63 million to the federal government as it pleaded guilty to charges that it improperly discarded hazardous waste such as bleach and fertilizer years ago.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that in cases filed by federal prosecutors in California, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at U.S. stores.
The world's largest retailer also pleaded guilty in Kansas City, Missouri to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Wal-Mart said its plea agreements with the U.S. Attorneys' Offices in the Northern and Central Districts of California, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri and an administrative resolution signed with the Environmental Protection Agency bring an end to compliance issues that took place years ago.
Wal-Mart previously agreed in 2010 to pay $27.6 million to the state of California to settle a related lawsuit and agreed in 2012 to pay more than $1.25 million to the state of Missouri.
The issues involve prior practices such as throwing out lawn products such as fertilizer and pesticides in the trash rather than through a certified hauler.
In one instance, according to an earlier court filing, investigators in April 2002 observed "piles of multicolored unknown fertilizer type substances and torn sacks of ammonium sulfate" at one of the company's stores in California, after learning a child had been playing on a pile of "yellowish colored powder" near the store's garden department.
As part of the California plea agreement, Wal-Mart is set to pay a $40 million criminal fine and to pay $20 million to fund community service projects including helping U.S. retailers learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.
As part of the Missouri plea agreement, Wal-Mart is set to pay an $11 million criminal fine and to pay $3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
Wal-Mart also plans to pay a $7.628 million civil penalty to the federal government.
In 2006, Wal-Mart put an environmental compliance program into place that it says has helped to rectify such issues. For example, workers at its Walmart and Sam's Club stores can now see if a product is considered a hazardous waste if discarded by scanning the item with a handheld scanner and also through shelf labels.
(Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)