ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A Texas company that makes industrial and medical gases in Alaska will pay $4.5 million to settle a government lawsuit over illegal releases of refrigeration chemicals.
Air Liquide America of Houston, which owns a plant in Anchorage, will pay the fine to settle a government lawsuit over releases of chemicals such as freon, according to the company, the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The civil penalty is the largest ever for violating a section of the Clean Air Act that regulates ozone-depleting substances.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, the government said 22 Air Liquide facilities in 18 states, including Alaska, allowed ozone-depleting gas leaks in amounts that exceeded federal limits. The Justice Department also said that Air Liquide failed to locate and repair leaks, did not keep proper records, and failed to use EPA-certified technicians to maintain and repair the equipment.
Under the settlement, the company has agreed to replace systems that run on ozone-depleting refrigerants with ones that use more environmentally benign chemicals that do not contain chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs. Scientists have concluded that CFCs damage the earth's protective ozone layer 30 miles above the planet's surface, according to a Justice Department and EPA joint statement.
The Texas company, a subsidiary of L'Air Liquide of Paris, France, will also fund an environmental justice project as part of the settlement.
Air Liquide came under government scrutiny in Colorado in 1999.
''We found out about the problems in Denver and we did a self-audit of all our facilities to assure that all of them were following policies and procedures, and we made all of that available to the government,'' said Linda Krupps, an Air Liquide spokeswoman in Houston.
The company takes the allegations seriously and has disciplined several employees, she said.
''We consider ourselves an ethical company,'' Krupps said.
Under the settlement, the Alaska plant will by 2005 replace its high-temperature chiller with a one that is more environmentally friendly. The plant makes liquid nitrogen and oxygen for use in welding, hospitals and clinics, and the oil industry.
Kevin McDaid, the facility's administrator, referred all questions to the corporate headquarters. Krupps said she didn't have details on violations at the Anchorage plant. A Justice Department attorney declined to comment.
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