(CN) – Agribusiness giant Monsanto has agreed to plead guilty to using a banned pesticide on Maui research crops and pay more than $10 million in fines, according to a U.S. Justice Department plea agreement released Thursday.
In court documents filed in United States District Court in Honolulu, Monsanto will plead guilty to a misdemeanor offense of unlawfully spraying a banned pesticide – specifically methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M –which the company used on corn seed and research crops at its Valley Farm facility in Kihei, Hawaii in 2014.
Monsanto admitted it used Penncap-M despite knowing of its 2013 prohibition by the Environmental Protection Agency. The company also admitted that it told employees to re-enter the sprayed fields seven days later even though it knew that workers should have been prohibited from entering the area for 31 days.
Under a deal with prosecutors, Monsanto will pay $10.2 million that includes a $6 million criminal fine and $4 million in community service payments to several government agencies and an additional $200,000 fine.
If the company successfully completes a two-year period of compliance with the agreement’s terms, the government agreed to dismiss two felony charges for unlawfully transporting and storing hazardous waste at locations on Maui and Moleka’i.
“The illegal conduct in this case posed a threat to the environment, surrounding communities and Monsanto workers,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “Federal laws and regulations impose a clear duty on every user of regulated and dangerous chemicals to ensure the products are safely stored, transported and used.”
From March 2013 through August 2014, even though the pesticide was on the company’s lists of chemicals that needed disposal, Monsanto stored 160 pounds of Penncap-M hazardous waste at its Molokaʻi facility, which under federal law made Monsanto a “Large Quantity Generator” of hazardous waste and subject to additional regulations.
Monsanto also stored a total of 111 gallons of Penncap-M at Valley Farm, Maalaea and Piilani. Just like on Molokaʻi, the storage of Penncap-M at the three Maui sites made Monsanto a “Large Quantity Generator.”
According to court documents, Monsanto failed to properly identify the hazardous waste on shipping manifests and obtain permits for its transport as required by law.
“To protect human health and the environment, pesticides must be properly applied and stored,” Special Agent-in-Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Hawaii Jay Green said. “EPA will continue to work in close partnership with our state and local counterparts to bring cases against those who knowingly threaten the health and safety of Hawaiian communities.”
Five Hawaiian agencies will split the $4 million community service payments, receiving $800,000 each.
· the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture, to create and fund a Pesticide Disposal Program and for training and education purposes;
· the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources, Maui Division of Aquatic Resources, for use in its marine programs;
· the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Hazardous Waste Branch, for use in its training and education programs;
· the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Environmental Management Division, for water quality monitoring, water quality improvements and training and education purposes; and
· the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission, for use in the clean-up of the island of Kahoʻolawe.
Special attorneys Mark Williams and Dennis Mitchell, appointed by the United States Attorney General, are prosecuting the case.