Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has agreed to pay $27.6 million to settle allegations that it improperly handled and dumped hazardous waste at stores across California. The case has led to changes in the retailer’s practices nationwide. Settlement of the case ends a five-year investigation involving more than 20 prosecutors and 32 environmental groups. It was alleged that each of the company’s 236 stores and distribution centers across California, including Sam’s Club warehouse stores, were in violation of environmental laws and regulations.
Wal-Mart was accused of improperly disposing of pesticide, fertilizer, paint, aerosols and other chemicals. In one case, a Solano County boy was said to be found playing in a mound of fertilizer near a Wal-Mart garden section. The yellow-tinted powder contained ammonium sulfate, a chemical compound that causes irritation to people’s skin, eyes and respiratory tract. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis had this to say:
Today a corporate giant has been held accountable for its actions, and Wal-Mart is cleaning up its act. This should serve as a warning to all companies doing business in the state and in San Diego County that they will not be allowed to flaunt environmental laws in place to keep our communities clean and safe — no matter how large or small the corporation.
Wal-Mart is also facing civil and criminal investigations by federal officials into allegations that the company’s handling of hazardous waste violated environmental laws in California, Missouri and Washington, D.C. The federal cases are still pending, including the one in California. California’s state investigation started in 2005 when an employee from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health saw a worker pouring bleach down a drain.
Wal-Mart says it has worked closely with the state of California “on a comprehensive hazardous waste plan that includes improved training programs, policies and procedures.” Wal-Mart now identifies which products are hazardous and has nearly 50 new operating procedures detailing how its employees should handle them properly. The new practices should put the retailer’s stores in compliance across the country, according to a Wal-Mart spokesman.
The company will pay $20 million in penalties to the various prosecuting and investigating agencies, more than $1.6 million in investigative costs and $3 million for environmental projects. It also will invest $3 million to guarantee its stores will remain in compliance.
Source: Associated Press
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