updated 12/20/2005 2:40:20 PM ET 2005-12-20T19:40:20

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is the target of a criminal investigation over how it handled merchandise that is classified as hazardous waste, the company announced Tuesday.

The world’s largest retailer said in a regulatory filing that the investigation centers on the company’s transport of hazardous materials from stores in California to a return center in Las Vegas. The company said its practice is to move hazardous materials to return centers, then take the materials to sites approved for hazardous waste disposal.

The materials include a wide range of products — anything from damaged aerosol cans to paint, Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Clark said Tuesday.

“The government did not challenge the manner in which we disposed of hazardous-waste material once it arrived in the return center, but rather the transport of the material to the return center,” Clark said.

She said the company is cooperating with authorities.

“We are currently reviewing our transportation procedures, taking the necessary action to correct any regulatory problems,” Clark said.

According to Bentonville-based Wal-Mart, federal prosecutors say the company potentially violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which requires hazardous waste to be shipped straight to a disposal site via a certified hazardous waste carrier.

“The company cannot predict the outcome of this matter or the amount of any possible loss or range of loss which may arise from this matter,” Wal-Mart said in a Tuesday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Wal-Mart in October acknowledged a grand jury in Los Angeles had subpoenaed the company over its handling of hazardous materials and hazardous waste.

Also Tuesday, Wal-Mart said state regulators and local authorities in California and Nevada are investigating. Bentonville-based Wal-Mart said it is cooperating with authorities.

The filing with the did not list specific hazardous materials.

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