In court documents filed last Thursday in Hawaii, Monsanto Company agreed to plead guilty to 30 environmental crimes related to the use of a pesticide on corn fields in Hawaii, and the company further agreed to plead guilty to two other charges related to the storage of a banned pesticide that were the subject of a 2019 Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA).
Monsanto admitted in a plea agreement filed last Thursday that it committed 30 misdemeanor crimes related to the use of a glufosinate ammonium-based product sold under the brand name Forfeit 280. After using the product in 2020 on corn fields on Oahu, Monsanto allowed workers to enter the fields during a six-day “restricted-entry interval” (REI) after the product was applied.
The plea agreement calls for Monsanto to serve three years of probation, pay a total of $12 million and continue for another three years a comprehensive environmental compliance program that includes third-party auditor.
As a result of the conduct in which Monsanto allowed workers on 30 occasions to enter fields sprayed with Forfeit 280 during the REI, the company violated a 2019 DPA related to the storage of a banned pesticide. According to the documents filed today, Monsanto will plead guilty to two felony charges filed in 2019 that the government would have dismissed if the company had complied with federal law. In conjunction with the DPA related to the two felony charges of illegally storing an acute hazardous waste, Monsanto pleaded guilty in early 2020 to a misdemeanor offense of unlawfully spraying a banned pesticide – specifically methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M – on research crops at one of its facilities on Maui.
“Monsanto is a serial violator of federal environmental laws,” said United States Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “The company repeatedly violated laws related to highly regulated chemicals, exposing people to pesticides that can cause serious health problems.”
“The defendant in this case failed to follow regulations governing the storage of hazardous wastes and the application of pesticides, putting people and the environment at risk,” said Scot Adair, Special Agent in Charge of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criminal enforcement program in Hawaii. “Today’s plea agreement shows that EPA will hold responsible those who violate laws designed to protect communities from exposure to hazardous chemicals.”
In the new case filed today, Monsanto admitted that “due to a lack of oversight and supervision by Monsanto,” its workers violated a change to the REI period after the spraying of Forfeit 280 “by entering the fields 30 times to perform field-corn scouting within six days of spraying.” (“Corn scouting” consists of checking the corn for things such as weeds, insects and disease.) The REI change for Forfeit 280 – which was extended from 12 hours to six days – was part of an industry-wide change for products containing glufosinate ammonium prompted by an EPA decision in late 2016.
Monsanto admitted that it violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which regulates the registration, sale, distribution and use of pesticides, by failing to comply with Forfeit 280’s labeling. The label for Forfeit 280 stated: “It is a violation of Federal law to use Forfeit 280 in a manner inconsistent with its label.” Monsanto illegally used Forfeit 280 on Oahu facilities known as Lower Kunia and Haleiwa.
In the 2019 case related to Penncap-M, Monsanto pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor offense of unlawfully spraying the banned pesticide on corn seed and research crops at its Valley Farm facility on Maui in 2014. Monsanto admitted using Penncap-M in violation of FIFRA, even though the company knew its use was prohibited after 2013 pursuant to a “cancellation order” issued by the EPA. 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. The felony offenses covered by the DPA – the two charges to which Monsanto will plead guilty – are the unlawful storage of an acute hazardous waste in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). Penncap-M was a “restricted use pesticide” that could not be purchased or used by the public, and it could only be used by a certified applicator because of the possible adverse effects to the environment and injury to applicators or bystanders that could result.
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 a facility on Molokai, which made Monsanto a “Large Quantity Generator” of hazardous waste under RCRA. “Monsanto knew that Penncap-M had the substantial potential to be harmful to others and to the environment,” it admitted in the documents filed today.
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 two other sites known as Maalaea and Piilani. Just like on Molokai, 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.
In relation to the DPA and the prior guilty plea, Monsanto paid $10.2 million – a $6 million criminal fine under the DPA, a $200,000 fine for the FIFRA offense, and $4 million in community service payments to Hawaiian government entities.
In the plea agreement filed last Thursday, Monsanto agreed to pay another $6 million criminal fine, as well as an addition $6 million in community service payments. Four Hawaiian agencies will receive $1.5 million payments:
- The Department of Agriculture, Pesticide Use Revolving Fund – Pesticide Disposal Program/Pesticide Safety Training;
- the Department of the Attorney General, Criminal Justice/Investigations Division;
- the Department of Health, Environmental Management Division, to support environmental-health programs; and
- the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources.
As a result of the two actions taken by the Justice Department, Monsanto has agreed to pay a total of $22.2 million for the two RCRA felonies and the 31 FIFRA misdemeanor offenses.
Monsanto has agreed to have representatives appear in United States District Court in the near future to enter guilty pleas to a total of 32 offenses.
The sentence detailed in the court documents today are subject to the approval of United States District Judge J. Michael Seabright.
This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criminal Investigation Division.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Erik M. Silber and Dennis Mitchell of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section and Mark A. Williams, Chief of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section. In this case, these prosecutors are acting as special attorneys appointed by the Attorney General pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 515. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawaii was recused from this investigation.