Wal-Mart settles Calif. environmental claims for $27 million

Chris Rizo May 3, 2010, 3:28pm

Jerry Brown (D)

Bonnie Dumanis (R)

SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline)-Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, has agreed to pay more than $27 million to settle claims the company violated California environmental laws in how it handled hazardous materials.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was accused of improperly storing, handling, transporting and dumping hazardous waste, including pesticides, chemicals, paint, aerosols, acid, fertilizer and motor oil.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown, a Democrat, and a bipartisan group of 18 county prosecutors probed just how toxic substances such as bleach, pesticides and paint were disposed of at Wal-Mart stores across the state.

The case began after an investigator from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health watched a Wal-Mart employee dump bleach down a common drain.

Officials said their ensuing five-year investigation found violations at all of the company's stores in the Golden State -- 236 Wal-Marts, Sam's Club stores, distribution centers and storage facilities.

The agreement calls for Wal-Mart to pay a $20 million fine, spend $6 million on "supplemental environmental projects" and $3 million to improve store maintenance. Wal-Mart will also pay $1.6 million in officials' legal costs, to settle the claims.

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, a Republican, announced the settlement with the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer.

"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," Dumanis said in a statement.

For its part, Wal-Mart's vice president of environmental compliance, Phyllis Harris, said in a statement that it's "important to note" that violations uncovered by officials happened at least four years ago.

"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," Harris said.

The company said the settlement will not affect the company's financial results for the first quarter of fiscal year 2011.

The settlement was approved Monday morning by San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda Quinn.

The case is California v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc, Superior Court of California, San Diego County, No. 37-2010-00089145.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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