Wal-Mart pleaded guilty on charges that the company dumped hazardous waste into sanitation drains in 16 California counties.
As part of the plea, Wal-Mart will pay $81 million dollars, $20 million of which will fund community service projects helping U.S. retailers learn how to properly dispose of waste.
The end of the trial marks a decade-long investigation into Wal-Mart’s affairs, involving 20 prosecutors and 32 environmental experts, and a signing with the Environmental Protection Agency.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Wal-Mart is guilty of violating six counts of the Clean Water Act. The company also pleaded guilty in Kansas City, Missouri, for violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by mishandling pesticides.
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Court documents show that the illegal dumping occurred between 2003 and 2005, and was carried out by employees who were never trained to dispose of the waste. As a result, waste was thrown into local trash bins and sewer systems, and taken to return centers without proper safety documentation.
In 2010, Wal-Mart paid $27 million to California authorities over similar allegations, after a San Diego County health department employee saw a Wal-Mart employee pouring bleach down a drain. Wal-Mart proceeded to overhaul its hazardous waste compliance program.
Brooke Buchanan, Wal-Mart spokesperson, said employees are now better equipped to dispose of hazardous waste. Special scanners tell workers if a damaged package contains waste, and if so, how to dispose of it.
"We have fixed the problem," Buchanan said. "We are obviously happy that this is the final resolution."