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EPA Settlement Includes Hurricane Katrina Recovery Assistance

Release Date: 05/11/2006
Contact Information: Pat Reilly, 504-731-8627

(NEW ORLEANS - May 11, 2006) When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5 office in Chicago recently settled two cases with Airgas for violations in chemical reporting at facilities in Michigan, the Agency allowed the company to include some timely assistance for the greater New Orleans area.

The company, a national industrial gas supplier, proposed a Supplemental Environmental Project that would have Airgas workers properly dispose of more than 1,500 cylinders recovered by EPA and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality during the Hurricane Katrina cleanup.

The Supplemental Environmental Project is valued at more than $140,000. Airgas will also pay fines totaling $39,221.

As part of the project, Airgas was required to remove and properly dispose of cylinders collected by EPA and its partner agencies in the areas impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Many of these cylinders did not have labels indicating their ownership or contained unknown, potentially hazardous contents.

Some of the cylinders were stored temporarily at a collection site under the Highway 510 overpass in Orleans Parish, which has since closed. Others were removed from a temporary hazardous waste collection site at Fort Jackson, in lower Plaquemines Parish.

Airgas, which operates 13 regional companies, was uniquely qualified to perform the cylinder removal project, as it is the only company with a permit issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation to transport cylinders of unknown content. The company also maintains a hazardous material emergency response organization trained and equipped to work with compressed gases. The alleged violations were at facilities in Sault Ste. Marie and Flint, Mich.

The Flint facility settled allegations of Airgas's failure to submit chemical inventory forms for 900 pounds of chlorine during 2002 and 2003. Facilities with more than 100 pounds of chlorine stored must provide annual inventory forms to state and local authorities. As part of the Flint settlement, the company was required to remove 85 compressed gas cylinders from a temporary hazardous waste collection site managed by EPA and its partner agencies at Fort Jackson, in Plaquemines Parish, La.

The Sault Ste. Marie agreement settled an alleged failure by Airgas to promptly report a 150-pound chlorine release on Sept. 14, 2004. The release occurred when a cylinder of compressed chlorine developed a leak en route from the company's warehouse to its Sault Ste. Marie retail facility.

Chlorine releases greater than 10 pounds must be promptly reported to the National Response Center (NRC) and state and local authorities. The release was reported to the NRC about two days and 20 hours after the incident. It was also reported late to the state Emergency Response Commission. The company also failed to provide a written follow-up report to both entities, as well as the local emergency planning committee.

For its supplemental project, Airgas was required to spend at least $95,000 to remove and properly dispose of more than 1,400 cylinders from the collection site under Highway 510. Though final reports are not yet due to EPA, Airgas appears to have successfully completed both projects at an estimated cost of $140,000. Airgas eventually removed 308 cylinders from the Plaquemines Parish and 1,478 cylinders from the Orleans Parish site.

More information about the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act is available at http://www.epa.gov/region5/defs/html/epcra.htm.

More information about EPA's response to Hurricane Katrina is available at http://epa.gov/region6/katrina/index.htm.

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