State officials this week announced fines of more than $300,000 against Airgas over the industrial gas giant's role in a deadly leak at a Georgia sperm bank.
The state investigation found that Airgas failed to update the instructions on a liquid nitrogen storage tank at Xytex Cryo International in Augusta, as well as failed to conduct required inspections of hundreds of additional tanks throughout the state.
The problem with the Xytex tank began in late December, when an Airgas service manager determined — following an initial leak — that the tank's pounds per square inch limit should be recalibrated.
After that change was made, however, Georgia authorities said that the servicing instructions were not updated on the 3,000-gallon tank.
On Feb. 5, an Airgas driver began filling the tank according to the old instructions, which listed a limit of 30 PSI instead of the new 20 PSI. The tank became over-pressurized and began leaking liquid nitrogen gas into the building.
Xytex employee Anita Wylds responded to an alarm and fell unconscious shortly after entering the facility. Greg Meagher, a deputy sergeant with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department, went in after Wylds and also fell unconscious; he later died from environmental suffocation.
Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens assessed penalties of $302,500 against Airgas, including $297,500 for violations of the state's Boiler and Pressure Vessel Safety Act and another $5,000 for failing to promptly report the incident.
“This industrial gas leak may have been avoided if the proper servicing decal had been affixed to the bulk storage tank,” Hudgens said in a statement. “Either an employee not following through with the proper procedures or a lack of communication between the two companies led to this tragic event.”