In February 2017, a man was killed and woman severely injured at Xytex Cryo International, a sperm bank in Augusta. In August, industrial giant Airgas was fined more than $300,000 for their role in the accident. Airgas was the provider of nitrogen gas used by Xytex to freeze sperm cells. On December 13, 2016, Airgas installed a 3,000-gallon nitrogen dispensing and storage tank at Xytex. On December 22, a Xytex employee was trying to cool freezers with the nitrogen when the nitrogen started to dispense into the room. An Airgas employee determined in January that the tank would need to be recalibrated from 30 psi to 20 psi. This mistake would prove deadly.
The 911 logs from February 5, 2017 tell a terrifying story. That Sunday, an Airgas tanker truck arrived to deliver nitrogen. The driver connected the hose from his truck to the storage tank and began to fill it according to the tank’s servicing decal.
But the decal was never updated to show that the tank was now pressurized at 20 psi instead of 30. As a result, the tank became overpressurized. Nitrogen gas then began to leak throughout the building.
Xytex Gas Leak Could Have Been Prevented
Sgt. Greg Meagher arrived on the scene at almost 4 p.m. He was advised that the doors were freezing due to the nitrogen fumes. Around this time, Xytex employee Anita Wylds ventured into the building to turn off the leaking valve. She quickly went missing in the freezing fog.
Meagher and other deputies attempted entry to find Wylds several times, but were unsuccessful. Meagher finally decided to take matters into his own hands. He donned a jacket and braved the fog. He, too, went missing. The two were eventually found. Meagher died and Wylds suffered severe burns and hypothermia.
State inspectors would later find that Airgas frequently failed to comply with state laws regarding inspection of bulk storage tanks. Xytex, too, was found to have committed several violations, including failing to build a proper ventilation system in the building.
It is clear that had both companies followed proper procedures and safety protocols, this terrible incident could have been avoided. If your loved one has died in a preventable accident, speak to a wrongful death attorney.