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Bayer’s Monsanto unit is pleading guilty to illegally spraying research crops in Hawaii with a banned pesticide, Penncap-M, and agrees to pay $10 million in fines.
The Justice Department issued a press release on November 21, announcing the admission of guilt and plea agreement, which was entered in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii.
The company admits it used methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M, on corn seed and research crops at a facility in Valley Farm in Kihei, Hawaii from March 2013 through August 2014. The pesticide was banned in 2013 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In addition, the company had employees go into the sprayed fields a week later, despite a prohibition against allowing people to enter an area sprayed with the pesticide for at least 31 days. It also illegally stored 111 gallons of Penncap-M at three Maui sites, and illegally transported it to the Valley Farm site by failing to use a proper shipping manifest that identified it as a hazardous material, after it failed to obtain a permit to accept hazardous waste at the site.
The company agreed to pay $6 million in a criminal fine and $4 million in community service payments to the state. The guilty plea involves a misdemeanor charge of unlawful spraying of a banned pesticide, and in return federal prosecutors agreed to dismiss felony charges after two years if Monsanto abides by the agreement, paying the fines and completing a two-year compliance period. In addition, the company must complete an environmental compliance program at all of its Hawaiian facilities.
“The illegal conduct in this case posed a threat to the environment, surrounding communities and Monsanto workers,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in the press release. “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.”
Five Hawaiian agencies will receive $800,000 each from the $4 million payment, including the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, the Hawaii Department of Health, Environmental Management Division and the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission.
The agreement comes as Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, face more than 43,000 Roundup lawsuits filed nationwide, each raising similar allegations that the company provided inadequate warnings about cancer risks associated with exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers.
While Bayer continues to maintain that glyphosate is safe, following high-profile losses in the first three cases to go to trial, where juries awarded massive damages to individuals diagnosed with cancer following exposure to glyphosate, pressure is mounting on the company to reach settlements for Roundup cancer claims, with a number of additional cases being prepared for trial.