On September 7, 2012, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that they reached record-breaking settlements with Scotts Miracle-Gro Company (Scotts) for criminal and civil violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which controls the manufacture, distribution, sale and use of pesticides.
Scotts manufacturers widely sold pesticides for commercial and residential uses and reports 3 billion dollars in global sales.
A Federal District Court in Ohio sentenced Scotts to pay a $4 million fine and perform community services worth $500,000 for eleven criminal violations of FIFRA. According to the plea agreement, Scotts applied Actellic 5E and Storcide II to its bird food products to protect from infestation even though the EPA had prohibited this use because of their toxicity to birds and other wildlife. The company not only illegally marketed and sold the bird food for nearly two years but it also submitted false documents to the EPA and state regulatory agencies in an effort to deceive them into believing that numerous pesticides were registered with the EPA when in fact they were not, reported the DOJ press release.
The DOJ further reports that Scotts management continued to sell the products for six months after being warned by its employees “of the dangers of these pesticides.” By the time Scotts voluntarily recalled these products in March 2008, “the company had sold more than 70 million units of bird food illegally treated with pesticide that is toxic to birds.”
The cover up unraveled when in January 2008 the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation informed the EPA that federal pesticide registration numbers could not be verified for products that Scotts submitted in its annual applications for state pesticide registration. Following this revelation, the EPA began a civil investigation and, in April 2008, issued 40 FIFRA Stop Sale, Use or Removal Orders to Scotts for its unregistered pesticides to address over 100 noncompliant pesticide products.
In addition to pleading guilty to criminal misdemeanor charges stemming from these actions, Scotts also settled civil charges filed by the EPA for $6.05 million, while neither admitting not denying allegations. The settlement agreement also requires Scotts to complete an environmental project valued at $2 million and aimed at protecting over 300 acres of land throughout Ohio from direct pesticide application and agricultural run-off. The project will be run in association with Black Swamp Conservancy.
According to Scotts’ press release, the company has also committed $100,000 each to the Ohio Audubon’s Important Bird Area Program, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Urban Forestry Program, the Columbus Metro-Parks Bird Habitat Enhancement Program, the Cornell University Ornithology Laboratory, and the Nature Conservancy of Ohio.
Scotts press release and the public letter from its CEO, Jim Hadgedorm, tried to downplay the violations, saying it was only the work of one rogue employee and that the criminal violations amounted to nothing more than misdemeanor charges.
The EPA put out a statement declaring that “Scotts’ settlement is unprecedented in terms of the scope of corporate-wide noncompliance addressed, the number of pesticide products involved, and the far reaching nationwide noncompliance of Scotts’ products. This settlement holds Scotts accountable for its corporate-wide product noncompliance and results in a significant number of potentially harmful pesticides removed from commerce.”