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Airgas Doral, Inc. Ordered To Pay $7 Million for Shipping Argon Gas in Violation of Hazmat Materials Regulations

On May 26, 2016, Airgas Doral, Inc. (Airgas Doral) was sentenced in U.S. District Court, Miami, Florida, to a $4.3 million criminal fine. They were also ordered to pay a total of $2.7 million in restitution to the estates of the 3 stevedores who died from asphyxiation on May 20, 2008, as a result of their exposure to argon gas in the hold of a cargo vessel at Port Everglades. Additionally, they were sentenced to 2 years of organizational probation, with a special condition of establishing a hazardous materials compliance program, including an independent monitor and periodic reporting.

Airgas Doral pleaded guilty on May 5, 2016, to a 14 count criminal information, charging that between March 12, 2008, and May 14, 2008, the Miami fill plant then operated by Airgas Doral’s predecessor, ASI, made 8 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, Florida. 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.

DOT-OIG is conducting this investigation with substantial assistance from PHMSA.