Airgas Doral, Inc. Sentenced for Hazmat Transportation Permit Violations and Ordered to Pay Restitution
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Marlies Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Department of Transportation (DOT-OIG), Office of Inspector General, announced that Airgas Doral, Inc. (Airgas Doral) was sentenced today by United States District Judge Robert N. Scola, Jr., to a $4,300,000 criminal fine, two years organizational probation, with a special condition of a hazardous materials compliance program, including an independent monitor and periodic reporting, and was ordered to pay a total of $2,700,000 in restitution ($900,000 is to be paid to each of the estates of the three stevedores who died from asphyxiation on May 20, 2008, as a result their exposure to argon gas in the hold of a cargo vessel at Port Everglades).
Airgas Doral pled guilty on May 5, 2016 to a fourteen count criminal information, charging it with willfully and recklessly violating the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, Title 49, United States Code, Sections 5124(a), (c)-(d), based on its violations of hazardous materials regulations (HMR), and DOT Special Permit (SP) 11186. Under the terms of a plea agreement with the Government, Airgas Doral had agreed to imposition of the 2 year term of probation, including the hazardous materials compliance plan with independent monitor and periodic reporting requirements. The plea agreement also recommended the imposition of a $7,000,000 organizational fine to be paid by Airgas Doral, and guaranteed by its corporate parent and 100% owner, Airgas, Inc., that could be offset by the amount of any restitution awarded to the victims of the violations, as long as the total penalty amounted to $7,000,000. Airgas Doral and the Government recommended the $2,700,000 restitution award, which Judge Scola then imposed. According to court records, the estates of the three stevedores had previously recovered approximately $9,000,000 in total civil settlements against various parties, including Airgas South.
According to the court record, Airgas Doral, a Delaware corporation, is wholly owned by Airgas, Inc., which is a leading U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases. Airgas Doral is also the successor in interest to the former Airgas South, Inc. (Airgas South), which made eight shipments of refrigerated liquefied argon gas in portable tanks, between March 12, 2008 and May 14, 2008, but failed to comply with regulatory and permit requirements for transporting that hazardous material, including training hazardous materials employees and managers at its Miami fill plant on required pre-transportation functions, such as conducting visual inspections of the tanks for deficiencies, and the taking of required pressure and temperature readings. These failures came to light when the means of containment of a tank shipped by Airgas South failed in the hold of a vessel at Port Everglades on May 20, 2008, and three stevedores who entered the vessel’s hold asphyxiated and died. A subsequent investigation revealed the tank’s pressure relief devices were corroded, defective, and damaged so as to prevent normal operation, but that since the hazardous material personnel at the Miami fill plant had not received required function specific training, the required inspections had not been conducted, resulting in Airgas South offering for transportation a portable tank that should not have been shipped.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of DOT-OIG, and the technical and support assistance provided by the DOT-Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jose A. Bonau of the Economic and Environmental Crimes Section.