Tuesday, 18 June 2024

Walmart to pay record $27 million settlement for environmental violations around California

The retail giant Walmart has settled a civil case with the state of California in which it will pay what is reported to be one of the largest environmental settlements of its type in US history.

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis and 18 other district attorneys throughout the state announced on Monday that a $27.6 million settlement was reached with Walmart for violations of environmental laws and regulations.

The San Diego District Attorney’s Office and Attorney General’s Office filed a civil complaint on April 2 alleging that each of the 236 Walmart stores, Sam’s Club stores, distribution centers and storage facilities in California were in violation of environmental laws and regulations.

Lake County's Walmart store is located in Clearlake.

The suit alleged that Walmart employees and management were improperly storing, handling, transporting and dumping hazardous waste, including pesticides, chemicals, paint, aerosols, acid, fertilizer and motor oil.

“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,” said Dumanis.

Phyllis Harris, vice president of environmental compliance for Walmart U.S. said environmental sustainability is a priority at Walmart, and the company takes its compliance responsibilities very seriously.

“It's important to note that these incidents happened at least four years ago,” Harris said in a Monday statement. “Since then, we have worked closely with the state of California on a comprehensive hazardous waste plan that includes improved training programs, policies and procedures. This robust environmental compliance initiative is focused on how to safely handle products like these and has been implemented in all of our stores and clubs.”

In the settlement – signed Monday by San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn – Walmart agreed to pay $20 million in penalties to the 20 prosecutors and 32 environmental health agencies throughout California involved in the investigation.

The company also will pay more than $1.6 million in costs for the investigation and $3 million for supplemental environmental projects benefiting prosecutors, investigators and regulators.

Walmart also agreed to spend at least an additional $3 million toward keeping its stores in compliance with environmental laws and regulations.

“Safety should always be the No. 1 priority for the hundreds of thousands of people who travel California’s freeways every day,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said. “This settlement ensures that Walmart obeys the laws when shipping potentially hazardous materials on our streets and highways.”

Federal, state and local investigators spent thousands of hours documenting the violations.

The investigation began after an off-duty regulator from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health noticed a Walmart employee dumping bleach down a sink drain in April 2005. The regulator returned to the San Diego County store while on duty and asked about hazardous waste disposal policies. That’s when it was discovered that Walmart was in violation.

Another example of a violation involved a Walmart Store in Solano County where a child was found playing in a mound of fertilizer left near its garden department. The yellowish-colored powder contained ammonium sulfate, a chemical compound used in fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides which causes irritation to the skin, eyes and respiratory tract.

As a result of this settlement, Walmart was required to make substantial upgrades to its environmental compliance system to prevent any future violations.

Harris said the company has taken a number of compliance measures, including hiring more environmental compliance staff, developing and implementing nearly 50 new environmental compliance standard operating procedures for our stores and clubs, identifying which consumer products sold in stores and clubs constitute hazardous waste if discarded and providing the information to store and club associates through handheld terminals and shelf labels.

They've also implemented a hazardous waste management system so that store and club associates properly dispose of regulated items that become waste at the stores and clubs and provided enhanced environmental compliance training to all associates in all stores and clubs.

"We’re confident that our current procedures represent a model for hazardous waste management in retail,” Harris said. “We’re a better company today as a result of these programs and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to make our environmental compliance programs even stronger in the future.”

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