Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will pay $81.6 million after pleading guilty Tuesday to criminal charges of improperly disposing of fertilizer, pesticides and other hazardous products that were pulled from stores in California and Missouri because of damaged packaging and other problems.
The retail giant entered the plea in federal court in San Francisco to misdemeanor counts of violating the Clean Water Act and another environmental law regulating pesticides. The fine also settled Environmental Protection Agency allegations.
In Kansas City, Mo., the company pleaded guilty to improperly handling pesticides.
The plea agreements ended a nearly decade-old investigation involving more than 20 prosecutors and 32 environmental groups that has cost Wal-Mart a total of $110 million.
Court documents show illegal dumping occurred in 16 California counties from Del Norte to Orange between 2003 and 2005. Federal prosecutors said the company didn't train its employees on how to handle and dispose hazardous materials at its stores.
Prosecutors say waste was tossed into trash bins or poured into sewer systems. The waste also was improperly taken to one of several product return centers throughout the U.S. without proper safety documentation, authorities said.
In 2010, the company agreed to pay $27.6 million to settle similar allegations made by California authorities that led to the overhaul of its hazardous waste compliance program nationwide.
A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said employees are better trained on how to clean up, transport and dispose of dangerous products such as fertilizer that are spilled in a store or have packages damaged.