Tainted, mislabeled pesticides added to the company's wild bird seed resulted in countless wildlife deaths, massive product recalls and unprecedented civil and criminal penalties.
America's leading lawn care company is in big trouble for potentially poisoning wild birds across the country, and lying to the government and consumers about pesticide products.
Before a voluntary recall in 2008, The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company sold 70 million units of wild bird feed that was illegally treated with an insecticide that is dangerously toxic to wild birds, fish and other wildlife. The Marysville, Ohio-based company must now pay $12.5 million in criminal and civil penalties that regulators say are the heftiest ever issued under federal pesticide law.
It's practically impossible to quantify how many wild birds and other wildlife were impacted by Scotts' crimes against nature, but a federal court in Ohio fined the company $4 million, plus $500,000 worth of environmental community service, after Scotts pleaded guilty to distributing the poisonous bird feed and other crimes involving mislabeled and unregistered pesticides.
In a separate civil agreement with the EPA, which launched a civil investigation after the criminal violations were discovered, Scotts agreed to pay $6 million in fines and donate $2 million to environmental projects. Regulators also are touting this settlement as the largest in the history of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), which has regulated pesticides since 1947.
Scotts plead guilty to selling consumers wild bird feed that was poisonous to birds, along with deceiving regulators by falsifying pesticide registration documents, distributing pesticides with misleading and unapproved labels, and distributing unregistered pesticides. Misuse and mislabeling of pesticides can cause illness in humans and kill wildlife, and as a result of the settlement, a "significant number" of potentially harmful pesticides will be removed from the market, according to the EPA.
"As the world's largest marketer of residential-use pesticides, Scotts has a special obligation to make certain that it observes the laws governing the sale and use of its products," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.
Scotts added the pesticides Storcide II and Actellic 5E to the wild bird feed to prevent insect infestations while the product was in storage, but the company apparently ignored the warning label on Storcide II that specifically states the pesticide is toxic to birds, fish and other wildlife. Scotts sold the tainted bird feed for two years after it began marketing the product, and for six months after company employees alerted management to the danger posed by the pesticides, according to the EPA.
Scotts also pleaded guilty to submitting falsified documents to the EPA and state regulatory agencies in an effort to deceive regulators into believing that the chemical formulas were registered with the EPA, when they were not.
Scotts claims an unnamed "former associate" submitted the falsified documents. The company claims this "former associate" has plead (sic) guilty to federal crimes and insists that she acted alone.
As the criminal violations came to light, the EPA launched a review of Scotts' pesticide registrations that uncovered a list of civil violations. For at least five years, Scotts had made nationwide sales of canceled, unregistered and misbranded pesticide products, including products with inadequate warnings or cautions on their labels.
Scotts also imported pesticides into the United States without documentation required under law, causing more than 100 Scotts' products to be in violation of federal registration law.
In a letter to consumers and investors, Scotts CEO Jim Hagedorn wrote that the company's actions do not reflect Scotts' "core values and history." Hagedorn pointed out that, as part of the civil and criminal settlements, Scotts will spend $2.5 million to help restore and conserve habitats in Ohio.
In his letter, Hagedorn claimed his company voluntarily disclosed to the government that it had illegally applied the insecticides to the bird feed, and also voluntarily recalled several other products. EPA regional spokesperson Josh Singer told Truthout that, during the civil investigation, Scotts complied with 40 orders to stop the sale of more than 100 Scotts products that were in violation of federal law. Scotts also paid a third-party reviewer to check the compliance status of the company's products, and shared that information with the government.
Here's a list of Scotts products involved in the EPA settlement:
• Banrot Broad Spectrum Fungicide 40 percent Wettable Powder),
• Basics Solutions Weed & Grass Killer Concentrate
• Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy & Poison Oak Killer
• Contrast 70 WSP
• Duosan WSB Wettable Powder Turf and Ornamental Fungicide
• ORTHO Bug-B-Gon MAX Lawn & Garden Insect Killer Ready-To-Spray ORTHO Bug B Gon MAX Lawn & Garden Insect Killer Concentrate ORTHO Bug-B-Gon Multi-Purpose Insect Killer Ready-To-Use Granules (aka Ortho Bug B Gon Lawn & Soil Insect Killer with Grub Control
• ORTHO Home Defense Max (aka Ortho Home Defense Indoor and Outdoor Insect Killer)
• ORTHO Malathion 50 Insect Spray
• ORTHO Orthonex Insect & Disease Control Formula III Concentrate
• ORTHO ProSelect Roach, Ant & Spider Killer
• ORTHO Weed B Gon Weed Killer for Lawns Concentrate Total Kill Lawn Weed Killer (aka Weed-Be-Gon Spot Weed Killer and Basic Solutions Lawn Weed Killer)