(NaturalNews) Wal-Mart is not only the world's largest retailer, it is apparently one of the nation's biggest polluters as well, as evidenced by a massive fine levied recently by the federal government following an investigation of "environmental crimes" which lasted more than a decade.
According to reports, the massive retailer was ordered to pay $81.6 million for violating Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding the improper disposal of hazardous waste and pesticides. Wal-Mart settled with the government after cases had been brought against it by the Department of Justice in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Missouri, as well as a civil suit brought by the EPA.
Noting it was "pleased" the cases were finally resolved, the multi-billion dollar retailer said the cases stemmed largely from "misdemeanor violations of certain environmental laws" that occurred "years ago."
'A comprehensive and industry-leading hazardous waste program'
"The incidents on which the charges are based occurred years ago and involved the transportation and disposal of common consumer products," Wal-Mart said in a statement. "No specific environmental impact has been alleged and since then, Wal-Mart designed and implemented comprehensive environmental programs that remain in place today."
One prosecutor said she is hopeful the multi-million dollar settlement will "send a message" to the nation's employers that they'll be held accountable if they harm the environment.
"Wal-Mart has a comprehensive and industry-leading hazardous waste program," said Phyllis Harris, senior vice president and chief compliance officer for Wal-Mart U.S. "The program was built around training, policies and procedures on how to safely handle consumer products that become hazardous waste, and we continue to run the same program in every store and club that was deployed years ago."
"We are pleased that this resolves all of these issues raised by the government," she added.
According to the statement, Wal-Mart "entered into plea agreements with the U.S. Attorneys' Offices in the Northern and Central Districts of California, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Missouri regarding misdemeanor violations of certain environmental laws, and has signed an administrative resolution with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to resolve compliance issues that took place years ago."
The massive fines and community service payments Wal-Mart was forced to pay were for violations of the federal Clean Water Act, as well as other violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), CNSNews.com reported.
"Today's criminal fine should send a message to companies of all sizes that they will be held accountable to follow federal environmental laws," Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Missouri, said.
"This tough financial penalty holds Wal-Mart accountable for its reckless and illegal business practices that threatened both the public and the environment," she added.
Prosecutors alleged that Wal-Mart inappropriately disposed of some two million pounds of pesticides.
In all, Wal-Mart's total fines and payments will top $110 million, the EPA said, with the addition of previous payments made to settle violations in Missouri and California.
Added Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California: "The case against Wal-Mart is designed to ensure compliance with our nation's environmental laws now and in the future."
Not all bad
The criminal investigation against Wal-Mart began in 2003. The retailer admitted it did not properly train employees on how to correctly dispose of "hazardous waste." Under federal law solvents, paint, detergents, pesticides and aerosols, among other compounds, are considered hazardous.
Despite the recent fines, Wal-Mart - which owns more than 4,000 retail stores in the U.S. and employs more than two million people - has done some good things for the environment as well. For one, the company says it has reduced its hazardous waste by some 30 percent since 2010.
"While it was announced today that Wal-Mart has finally resolved a government investigation into our environmental compliance dating back to 2003, we have already implemented a series of measures to properly manage consumer products that become hazardous waste in a program that, in many respects, goes beyond compliance with environmental laws," the company said on its "Green Room" blog.
And, as NaturalNews has reported, Wal-Mart has also stopped selling milk from hormone-treated cows, has begun labeling products with a green rating, has launched a major initiative to reduce the mercury content of its compact fluorescent lights and has pushed suppliers to use more "green" packaging of their products.