Georgia officials last week fined industrial gas giant Airgas more than $300,000 for its role in a deadly gas leak at an Augusta sperm bank in February.
An investigation determined that Airgas failed to update instructions for servicing a liquid nitrogen storage tank at Xytex Cryo International, which contributed to the leak in early February. The company also failed to conduct required inspections of hundreds of tanks throughout the state, the report found.
After a Xytex employee noticed an initial leak in late December, an Airgas service manager indicated that the 3,000-gallon bulk storage tank should be recalibrated from 30 pounds per square inch to 20 PSI.
The Georgia insurance commissioner, however, said that after that change was made, the tank's servicing instruction decal was not updated to reflect the new limit.
On Feb. 5, an Airgas driver began filling the tank according to the old instructions, which led the tank to become overly pressurized and begin leaking liquid nitrogen gas into the Xytex facility.
Anita Wylds, a Xytex employee, responded to an alarm and fell unconscious shortly after entering the building. Greg Meagher, a deputy sergeant with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Department, also entered the building to search for Wylds and collapsed. He later died from environmental suffocation.
Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens said in a statement that he 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 — the maximum allowed under state law — for failing to promptly report the February incident.
“This industrial gas leak may have been avoided if the proper servicing decal had been affixed to the bulk storage tank,” Hudgens said. “Either an employee not following through with the proper procedures or a lack of communication between the two companies led to this tragic event.”