LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pleaded guilty today to six misdemeanor counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at its retail stores across the United States -- an admission resulting from an investigation that began in Southern California.
As a result of the criminal cases brought by the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as a related civil case filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Wal-Mart will pay roughly $81.6 million for its unlawful conduct, according to the DOJ.
Coupled with previous actions brought by California and Missouri for the same conduct, the world's largest retailer will pay a combined total of more than $110 million to resolve cases alleging violations of federal and state environmental laws, the DOJ reported.
"Federal laws that address the proper handling, storage and disposal of hazardous wastes exist to safeguard our environment and protect the public from harm," U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said.
"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," he said. "The case against Wal-Mart is designed to ensure compliance with our nation's environmental laws now and in the future."
The six criminal charges were filed by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles and San Francisco -- each office filed three charges -- and the two cases were consolidated in San Francisco, where the guilty pleas were entered.
According to court documents, Wal-Mart did not have a program in place and failed to train its employees on proper hazardous waste management and disposal practices at its stores from a date unknown until January 2006.
As a result, hazardous wastes were either discarded improperly at stores -- including being put into municipal trash bins or, if liquid, poured into the local sewer system -- or were improperly transported without proper safety documentation to one of six product return centers located throughout the United States, according to the government.
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, officials said.
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.