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Airgas Doral, Inc. Pleads Guilty to Shipping Argon Gas in Violation of Hazardous Materials Regulations

On May 5, 2016, Airgas Doral, Incorporated (Airgas Doral) pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court, Miami, FL, to a 14-count criminal information filed on April 22, 2016, for offering in transportation several shipments of argon gas that failed to meet the provisions of the Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and DOT Special Permit 11186 (Special Permit). Airgas Doral is a wholly owned subsidiary of Airgas, Incorporated (Airgas) and a successor in interest of Airgas South, Incorporated (ASI).

Between March 12, 2008, and May 14, 2008, the Miami fill plant then operated by Airgas Doral’s predecessor, ASI, made eight shipments of argon, cryogenic liquid in pressurized tank containers, but failed to comply with DOT requirements, including: failing to annotate the applicability of the Special Permit on shipping documents; failing to provide carriers a copy of the Special Permit; failing to conduct necessary physical inspections, pressure readings, recording of ambient temperature, and computations of one-way travel time pertaining to the shipments; and failing to provide function specific training to its hazmat employees and managers involved in handling the shipments.

These violations at the Miami fill plant were discovered when the pressurized tank shipped by ASI on May 14, 2008, failed, releasing argon gas in the hold of a marine cargo vessel at Port Everglades, FL. Three stevedores who entered the vessel’s hold were asphyxiated and died as a result of their exposure to the argon gas. Subsequent investigation revealed that the aforementioned violations existed at the time of the incident despite the fact that ASI and its corporate parent held and operated under more than 100 similar DOT Special Permits, and had a training and compliance division intended to address such training issues.

The guilty plea was pursuant to an agreement reached wherein Airgas Doral agreed to also pay a $7 million fine and be subjected to a 24-month period of organizational probation, which will include monitoring by an independent auditor.

DOT-OIG is conducting this investigation with substantial assistance from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.