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EPA settles with Airgas for Michigan chemical reporting violations; includes $39,221 fine and hurricane Katrina recovery project

Release Date: 05/10/2006
Contact Information: (EPA Region 5 Chicago) Mick Hans, (312) 353-5050, hans.mick@epa.gov William Omohundro, (312) 353-8254, omohundro.william@epa.gov (EPA New Orleans) Pat Reilly, (504) 731-8680, reilly.pat@epa.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
No. 06-OPA070

(CHICAGO - May 10, 2006) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 5 has recently settled two cases with Airgas-Great Lakes Inc. for chemical reporting violations at facilities in Sault Ste. Marie and Flint, Mich. Airgas will pay fines totaling $39,221. The company is an industrial gas supplier.

Under a pair of supplemental environmental projects Airgas also collected and provided proper disposal of more than 1,700 cylinders recovered by EPA, U.S. Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality during the Hurricane Katrina cleanup.

The Sault Ste. Marie agreement, which includes a $31,472 civil penalty, settled an alleged failure by Airgas to promptly report a 150-pound chlorine release on September 14, 2004. The release occurred when a cylinder of compressed chlorine developed a leak en route from the company's Lansing warehouse to its Sault Ste. Marie retail facility. Chlorine releases greater than 10 pounds must be promptly reported to the National Response Center 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. In addition, the agreement settled allegations of Airgas's failure to submit required chemical inventory forms for chlorine stored at the facility during 2001, 2002 and 2003.

For its supplemental project, Airgas was required to spend at least $95,580 to remove and properly dispose of more than 1,400 cylinders collected by EPA and its partner agencies in the Hurricane Katrina recovery area. Many of these cylinders lacked labels or contained unknown, potentially hazardous contents. The cylinders were stored temporarily near the Highway 510 overpass.

The Flint agreement, which includes a $7,749 civil penalty, settled allegations of Airgas’ 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 spend at least $23,225 to remove more than 300 compressed gas cylinders from a temporary hazardous waste collection site managed by EPA and its partner agencies at Fort Jackson, in Plaquemines Parish, La.

Airgas, which operates 13 regional companies, was uniquely qualified to perform the cylinder removal project. It is the only company with a permit issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation to transport cylinders of unknown content. Airgas also maintains a hazardous material emergency response organization trained and equipped to work with compressed gases.

Though final reports are not yet due to the EPA, Airgas appears to have successfully completed both disposal projects at a total cost of about $140,000.

Chlorine reacts explosively with many common chemicals. Exposure at high concentrations causes headaches, nausea, choking and burns to the respiratory system and eyes.

More information about the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act is available on EPA’s Web site http://www.epa.gov/region5/defs/html/epcra.htm

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