Monsanto Company agreed to plead guilty to 30 federal environmental crimes in connection to the use of pesticide on corn fields in Hawai‘i.
The plea agreement was filed in court Thursday, Dec. 9. The pesticide manufacturer also agreed to plead guilty to two other charges related to the storage of a banned pesticide that were the subject of a deferred prosecution agreement in 2019.
“Monsanto is a serial violator of federal environmental laws,” said U.S. Attorney Tracy L. Wilkison. “The company repeatedly violated laws related to highly regulated chemicals, exposing people to pesticides that can cause serious health problems.”
Monsanto admitted it committed 30 misdemeanors connected 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 O‘ahu, Monsanto allowed workers to enter the fields during a six-day “restricted-entry interval” 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 a third-party auditor.
“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 Hawai‘i. “Today’s plea agreement shows that (the) EPA will hold responsible those who violate laws designed to protect communities from exposure to hazardous chemicals.”
As a result of the conduct in which Monsanto allowed workers on 30 occasions to enter fields sprayed with Forfeit 280, the company violated the 2019 DPA. According to court documents, Monsanto is pleading 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, Monsanto pleaded guilty earlier this year 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.
In the new case, Monsanto admitted that “due to a lack of oversight and supervision,” 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 weeds, insects, disease, etc.)
Monsanto admitted that it violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, 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 O’ahu facilities known as Lower Kunia and Hale‘iwa.
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 it told employees to re-enter the sprayed fields seven days later – even though Monsanto knew workers should have been prohibited from entering the area for 31 days. 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.
Monsanto said in a press release issued Thursday that the plea agreement resolves two previously announced RCRA violations that were part of the company’s 2019 deferred prosecution agreement and date back to 2014.
“The conduct at issue in the agreement is unacceptable and contrary to the values and policies of the company, and we sincerely regret it,” said Darren Wallis, Vice President of Communications, North America Crop Science, in the press release. “To ensure proper compliance, the company is taking significant remedial actions to enhance its controls, including strengthening its policies and procedures that now require a robust and multi-step approval process to authorize the use of pesticides on fields in Hawaii, and enhancing its training. Taken together, we are confident these measures will ensure legal compliance and will maintain our high safety standards.”
The company added that no adverse health effects associated with the Hawaii matters have been reported to the company.
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 Moloka‘i, 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,” the company admitted in court documents.
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 Mā‘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.
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 Thursday’s plea agreement, Monsanto agreed to pay another $6 million criminal fine, as well as an additional $6 million in community service payments.
As a result of the two actions taken by the Justice Department, Monsanto agreed to pay a total of $22.2 million for the two RCRA felonies and the 31 FIFRA misdemeanor offenses.
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 U.S. 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.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Hawai‘i was recused from this investigation.