Monsanto Pleads Guilty to Using Banned Pesticide in Maui

November 24, 2019, 9:26 AM HST (Updated November 24, 2019, 9:26 AM)
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EPA photo.

Monsanto Company has agreed to plead guilty to illegally using a banned pesticide known as Penncap-M on research crops at one of its facilities on the Hawaiian island of Maui, according to a press release from the US Department of Justice.

In court documents filed Thursday in United States District Court in Honolulu, Monsanto agreed to 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 in 2014.

Monsanto admitted in the court documents that it used Penncap-M, even though the company knew its use was prohibited after 2013 pursuant to a “cancellation order” issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The company further admitted that, after the 2014 spraying, it told employees to re-enter the sprayed fields seven days later — even though Monsanto knew that workers should have been prohibited from entering the area for 31 days.

Court documents also include a deferred prosecution agreement related to two felony counts of unlawfully storing an acute hazardous waste. Pursuant to the agreement, Monsanto will pay $10 million — a $6 million criminal fine and $4 million in community service payments — to Hawaiian government entities.

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The government agreed to dismiss the felony charges in two years if Monsanto abides by the agreement, which includes paying a total of $10.2 million, successfully completing a two-year period of compliance with the agreement’s terms, and maintaining a comprehensive environmental compliance program at all of its facilities in Hawai‘i to ensure compliance with all federal environmental laws.

“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.”

In a statement of facts filed in court today, Monsanto admitted that it knowingly used, transported and stored Penncap-M in violation of federal law. The pesticide “had to be managed as an acute hazardous waste in compliance with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA),” which prohibited the storage or transportation of the pesticide without a permit after 2013.

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 Moloka‘i facility, which under RCRA made Monsanto a “Large Quantity Generator” of hazardous waste.

In addition to spraying the banned pesticide at one of its three facilities on Maui, Monsanto also stored a total of 111 gallons of Penncap-M at Valley Farm and sites known as Ma‘alaea and Pi‘ilani. Just like on Moloka‘i, the storage of Penncap-M at the three Maui sites made Monsanto a “Large Quantity Generator” of acute hazardous waste at the three locations, according to court documents.

Furthermore, when it transported Penncap-M to its Valley Farm site in 2014, the company violated federal law when it failed to use a proper shipping manifest to identify the hazardous material and when it failed to obtain a permit to accept hazardous waste at that site.

“To protect human health and the environment, pesticides must be properly applied and stored,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Jay M. Green of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Hawai‘i. “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.”

In addition to $6 million criminal fine, Monsanto has agreed to make a total of $4 million in community service payments. The five Hawaiian agencies that each will receive $800,000 are the Hawai‘i Department of Agriculture, to create and fund a Pesticide Disposal Program and for training and education purposes; the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Maui Division of Aquatic Resources, for use in its marine programs; the Hawai‘i Department of Health, Hazardous Waste Branch, for use in its training and education programs; the Hawai‘i Department of Health, Environmental Management Division, for water quality monitoring, water quality improvements and training and education purposes; and the Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission, for use in the clean-up of the island of Kaho‘olawe.

In relation to the criminal count Monsanto to which has agreed to plead guilty, the company has agreed to be on probation for two years and to pay the maximum possible fine of $200,000.

This case is the result of an investigation by the US Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.

This matter is being prosecuted by Mark A. Williams and Dennis Mitchell, who are special attorneys appointed by the Attorney General pursuant to 28 USC § 515. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawai‘i was recused from this investigation.

Read the Monsanto plea agreement here.

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