LOS ANGELES, May 3 (Xinhua) -- U.S. prosecutors announced on Monday that Wal-Mart has agreed to pay 27.6 million dollars in penalties for violating environmental laws and regulations by improperly storing and disposing of hazardous waste.
"This settlement ensures that Wal-Mart obeys the laws when shipping potentially hazardous materials on our streets and highways," Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said.
"Safety should always be the number one priority for the hundreds of thousands of people who travel California's freeways every day."
A civil complaint filed last month by the San Diego County District Attorney's and state Attorney General's offices alleged that Wal-Mart employees at hundreds of the mega-retailer's facilities in Los Angeles and across California improperly store, handled, transported and dumped wastes, including pesticides, chemicals, paint, aerosols, acid, fertilizer and motor oil.
A five-year investigation began when an off-duty regulator from the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health noticed a Wal-Mart employee dumping bleach down a sink drain in April 2005, according to San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
Under the settlement signed by San Diego Superior Court Judge Linda B. Quinn, Wal-Mart agreed to pay 20 million dollars in penalties to the various prosecuting and investigating agencies, more than 1.6 million in investigative costs and three million for environmental projects.
The company also agreed to spend at least three million to keep its stores in compliance with environmental laws and regulations, according to prosecutors.
"Environmental sustainability is a priority at Wal-Mart, and we take our compliance responsibilities very seriously," Wal-Mart said in a statement.
Wal-Mart has implemented a comprehensive hazardous waste program which it hopes will represent a model for hazardous waste management in retail, according to the statement.
Wal-Mart will continue looking for opportunities to make its environmental compliance programs even stronger in the future, the statement said.
"We're a better company today as a result of these programs."