Airgas Doral has pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts in connection with the asphyxiation deaths of three workers who were exposed to argon gas in a confined space.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida had charged the company with willfully and recklessly violating the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA).
Under the terms of the plea agreement, Airgas Doral and the government agreed to $500,000 per count with two years of probation.
Authorities say between March 12, 2008 and May 14, 2008, Airgas’ Miami fill plant made eight shipments of argon, cryogenic liquefied gas in intermodal portable tanks covered by the HMTA but failed to comply with hazardous materials regulations and Department of Transportation requirements for transporting liquefied gas under pressure.
Then on May 14, 2008, containment of an intermodal portable tank failed, releasing argon gas in the hold of a vessel in Port Everglades, FL.
Three stevedores who entered the hold were asphyxiated and died as a result of their exposure to argon gas in the confined space.
Although other parties handled the tank after it left the Airgas Miami fill plant, the company was the shipper of record, making it responsible for various safety requirements, including certification that the hazmat was in proper condition for shipment.
Subsequent investigation revealed the Miami fill plant hazmat employees and managers failed to perform required physical inspections of the tanks, including a visual inspection of all emergency pressure relief devices for corrosion, distortion or any damage or defect. The tank in question didn’t meet the requirements. There were also deficiencies with required shipping paperwork.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Transportation are committed to the prosecution of individuals and corporations that willfully and recklessly violate the hazardous materials laws, regulations, and permits which are in effect to protection the nation and our community from potential harm,” said U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer.
Sentencing for the company is scheduled for May 26, 2016. A judge has to accept the plea agreement as entered by Airgas and the government.
Airgas Doral is a wholly owned subsidiary of Arigas Inc., a leading U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases and hard-goods.