Wal-Mart guilty in hazardous waste cases, to pay $82 million

Wal-Mart Stores on Tuesday said it would pay nearly $81.63 million to the federal government as it pleaded guilty to charges that it improperly discarded hazardous waste such as bleach and fertilizer years ago.

The U.S. Department of Justice said that in cases filed by federal prosecutors in California, Wal-Mart pleaded guilty to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act by illegally handling and disposing of hazardous materials at U.S. stores.

The world’s largest retailer also pleaded guilty in Kansas City, Missouri to violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) by failing to properly handle pesticides that had been returned by customers…

Wal-Mart previously agreed in 2010 to pay $27.6 million to the state of California to settle a related lawsuit and agreed in 2012 to pay more than $1.25 million to the state of Missouri…

In one instance, according to an earlier court filing, investigators in April 2002 observed “piles of multicolored unknown fertilizer type substances and torn sacks of ammonium sulfate” at one of the company’s stores in California, after learning a child had been playing on a pile of “yellowish colored powder” near the store’s garden department.

As part of the California plea agreement, Wal-Mart is set to pay a $40 million criminal fine and to pay $20 million to fund community service projects including helping U.S. retailers learn how to properly handle hazardous waste.

As part of the Missouri plea agreement, Wal-Mart is set to pay an $11 million criminal fine and to pay $3 million to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Wal-Mart also plans to pay a $7.628 million civil penalty to the federal government.

The American way of handling corporate crime continues unchanged. You pay a fine, no one does any time, no one at the top of the corporate pecking order is inconvenienced in the slightest.

Liberty Reserve + cyber-criminals = largest international money-laundering prosecution in history

The Liberty Reserve digital money service that was shut down laundered more than $6 billion in criminal cash, US authorities have said…Weekend police raids in 17 countries scooped up Liberty Reserve’s owners, operators and its computer hardware. The Department of Justice said it was the “largest international money-laundering prosecution in history”.

Liberty had about a million users and processed more than 55 million illegal transactions, said DoJ court papers.

The documents allege that seven people involved in running Liberty Reserve set up the digital cash service as a “criminal business venture” designed specifically to “help criminals conduct illegal transactions and launder the proceeds of their crimes”.

The raids in the US, Spain, Costa Rica and other countries led to the arrests of five of Liberty Reserve’s principals, including its founder Arthur Budovsky.

The service’s operators will face charges of money laundering and operation of an unlicensed money transmission system. Also arrested were many of the principal operators of exchanges that fed cash to Liberty for distribution to members of criminal gangs or as the start of the laundering process…

In addition, it said, 45 bank accounts used by the service have been seized and action has been taken to take over the assets of 35 other sites that fed funds to Liberty Reserve for laundering…

Liberty Reserve was so successful that it became a “financial hub of the cyber crime world“, whose users were involved in credit card theft, investment fraud, hacking, child pornography and drug trafficking.

The shutdown has caused problems for legitimate users of Liberty Reserve, said Mitchell Rossetti, head of the EPay Tarjeta service that piggy-backed on LR.

“Thousands upon thousands of LR users are not nor have been involved in illegal activities,” he said, “but now have become victims through the closure and seizure of LR.”

I continue to be amazed how thoroughly greed outweighs self-preservation in criminal enterprise. There were many warning signs the Feds were closing in on Budovsky – who had already been through the same process with a previous money-laundering operation last decade. He set-up shop in Costa Rica presuming that distance and a change in citizenship was sufficient to protect his criminal bank.

I understand the legitimate concerns about honest users worried over getting their money back. But, folks, if you did half the homework you would have done in picking out someone to repair your car – you should have realized this crowd was crooked.

As global warming affects the Arctic, plants frozen for centuries turn green again


Click to enlarge

Plants that were frozen during the “Little Ice Age” centuries ago have been observed sprouting new growth, scientists say.

Samples of 400-year-old plants known as bryophytes have flourished under laboratory conditions…

They come from a group from the University of Alberta, who were exploring an area around the Teardrop Glacier, high in the Canadian Arctic.

The glaciers in the region have been receding at rates that have sharply accelerated since 2004, at about 3-4m per year.

That is exposing land that has not seen light of day since the so-called Little Ice Age, a widespread climatic cooling that ran roughly from AD 1550 to AD 1850.

“We ended up walking along the edge of the glacier margin and we saw these huge populations coming out from underneath the glacier that seemed to have a greenish tint,” said Catherine La Farge, lead author of the study…

“When we looked at them in detail and brought them to the lab, I could see some of the stems actually had new growth of green lateral branches, and that said to me that these guys are regenerating in the field, and that blew my mind,” she told BBC News.

“If you think of ice sheets covering the landscape, we’ve always thought that plants have to come in from refugia around the margins of an ice system, never considering land plants as coming out from underneath a glacier.”

But the retreating ice at Sverdrup Pass, where the Teardrop Glacier is located, is uncovering an array of life, including cyanobacteria and green terrestrial algae. Many of the species spotted there are entirely new to science.

It’s a whole world of what’s coming out from underneath the glaciers that really needs to be studied,” Dr La Farge said.

I wonder if there’s a chance we might reacquire Mothra? 🙂

Mucus harbors a previously unknown human immune system


Click through for press release from SDSU

Though not something people like to ponder, the purpose of mucus as a protective barrier that keeps underlying tissues moist and traps bacteria and other foreign organisms is well known. However, researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU) have now discovered that the surface of mucus is also the site of an independent human immune system that actively protects us from infectious agents in the environment.

Mucus is produced by tissue that lines the inner surfaces of the body which come into contact with the outer environment. The mouth, nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract all possess mucus-producing tissue. The mucus layer has long been identified as providing protection against the outside world, but in a rather passive manner.

No longer. An SDSU research team led by biology post-doc Jeremy Barr has discovered that a previously unsuspected immune system is active on the surface of the mucus layer. This immune system consists of a layer of bacteria-infecting viruses (bacteriophage), that actively attack and kill infectious (and harmless) bacteria as the viruses multiply…

Many varieties of bacteriophage are collected on the mucus layer of animals from the environment. These take on a role to defend the animal from infection by killing infectious intruders. The bacteriophage find the mucus layer to be a pleasant environment, where they find comfortable living conditions and plenty of food and hosts for replication of the bacteriophage: a win-win situation for all.

“This discovery not only proposes a new immune system but also demonstrates the first symbiotic relationship between phage and animals,” Barr said. “It will have a significant impact across numerous fields.”

RTFA for some of the details.