Wal-Mart Pleads Guilty to Improperly Dumping Hazardous Waste in California and Missouri

Giant retailer to pay $81.6 million in environmental fines. Wal-Mart Stores pleaded guilty to six federal counts of violating the Clean Water Act in California and one count of violating a law on pesticide disposal in Missouri. It ends years of investigations and legal wrangling that pitted the nation’s largest retailer against government authorities over charges that employees were improperly disposing hazardous materials. The problems stem from incidents beginning in 2003. According to authorities, Wal-Mart workers tossed products, like bleach and fertilizer, into the trash or the local sewer system. Prosecutors said that until 2006 Wal-Mart had no employee training program for hazardous waste management and disposal. The New York Times, The Kansas City StarEnvironmental Protection Agency

Ireland plans to follow Australia’s lead in requiring plain packaging for cigarettes. The Irish government said the rules will bar all  trademarks, logos, colors and graphics on packaging for tobacco products. Smoking was part of Ireland’s pub culture until the country became the world’s first to ban smoking in all enclosed public places, public transport and workplaces in 2004. Over 5,000 people in Ireland still die every year from tobacco-related diseases, officials said. The move will need parliamentary approval, but the governing coalition enjoys a strong majority. Australia last year became the first country to adopt plain packaging laws. Similar measures are being considered in such places as the U.K., Canada and India. Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian

As California focuses on fracking, some environmentalists fear a bigger threat is being overlooked. California is working on rules for drilling in the Monterey oil formation, the nation’s largest shale reserve. State officials are developing regulations while the legislature debates 10 bills on the practice. But most Monterey drillers employ a technique using acid, and only one bill under consideration would regulate that longtime well completion method. “All this anti-fracking language misses the target and I am very concerned it is a diversion,” said one environmentalist. The technique involves pumping chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid into wells to melt rocks and other impediments to oil flow. Reuters

Japan again pledges improved nuclear safety — after an accident exposes 33 people to excess radiation. The accident, which wasn’t immediately disclosed, occurred Thursday at a government research operation in Tokaimura, north of Tokyo. Researchers were using equipment that overheated, triggering the release of radioactive gold, authorities said. The leak first was thought to have been contained but it spread when a ventilation fan was switched on. The 33 workers exposed received up to 1.7 millisieverts of radiation, about as much as a person in Japan typically receives in background radiation in a year. Japan’s nuclear industry has been in crisis since the March 2011 disaster at the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant. The Associated Press

Wood framing contractor accused of exposing workers to the risk of 30-foot falls. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in all, cited Twin Pines Construction of  Everett, Mass., for 10 violations. That included three willful violations, the agency’s most serious offense, for failing to adequately protect employees working at heights of nine to 30 feet. The charges, involving a Durham, N.H.,  job site, also included four repeat violations. OSHA found similar flaws in 2009 and 2011 at six Twin Pines sites in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.  OSHA proposed fines of $290,700 , which an agency official said “reflect the gravity and recurring nature of these hazards, plus this employer’s knowledge of and refusal to correct them.” OSHA, The Associated Press

Compiled by Stuart Silverstein

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