All the air that’s fit to breathe

After being charged with illegally releasing ozone-depleting gases by the US Justice Department, Air Liquide is to replace refrigerants that destroy the ozone layer with environmentally friendly alternatives.

The US Justice Department and the US Environmental Protection Agency have announced a Clean Air Act settlement with Air Liquide America Corporation to replace refrigerant chemicals that destroy the earth’s stratospheric ozone layer with environmentally friendly alternatives.

The United States charged Air Liquide with illegally releasing ozone-depleting gases from industrial process refrigeration systems at 22 facilities located in 18 states. The agreement, filed in US District Court in Texas, requires Air Liquide to convert all its industrial refrigeration systems now using regulated ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) to systems using alternative, environmentally friendly refrigerants.

The company also will fund an ‘environmental justice’ supplemental project that will benefit a lower income, predominately minority community in Louisiana, and pay a $4.5 million civil penalty.

Under the settlement Air Liquide will replace or completely retrofit 46 industrial refrigeration systems to coolant methods that are environmentally benign, and will retire seven more systems which use ozone-depleting refrigerants.

The company also will dedicate an undeveloped parcel of land having ecological value as open or ‘green’ space in the industrialised area of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. This land will not be used for industrial purposes in the future and is considered an ‘environmental justice’ supplemental project aimed at benefitting the primarily lower income, predominately minority community.

The project is valued at $422,000. Additionally, the company will donate a two-acre parcel of land it owns in Westlake, Louisiana to the Carlyss Fire Department for a new two-bay fire and emergency response station. This particular project is valued at about $78,000.

Air Liquide could have continued to use regulated, ozone-depleting refrigerants in these systems for an indefinite period of time, provided the company complied with CAA requirements. Instead, the company chose to voluntarily revamp its refrigeration processes. ‘We commend Air Liquide for its good faith in seeking to offset the past excessive leaks of ozone-depleting refrigerants by making these efforts to reduce the use of ozone-depleting substances all together,’ said John Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice.

Scientists worldwide have concluded that CFCs damage the stratospheric ozone layer, which already is significantly depleted over Antarctica, and, to a lesser extent, over North America, Europe and other populated areas. When allowed to escape into the air, the CFC molecule breaks apart releasing chlorine, which then attacks the earth’s protective ozone layer. A single chlorine atom can destroy more than 100,000 ozone molecules.

The initial DOJ/EPA complaint against Air Liquide alleged violations of the CAA, including releasing regulated ozone-depleting substances into the air, exceeding the annual leak rate of 35 percent for large, industrial, cooling systems using CFC refrigerants, adding refrigerant containing CFCs to its refrigeration systems without testing for, locating, and repairing leaks, failing to capture the CFC refrigerant from the appliances using certified CFC recovery/recycling equipment, failing to keep proper records and provide them to EPA and failing to use an EPA certified technician to maintain, service or repair the industrial process refrigeration equipment.

The civil settlement is subject to a 30-day comment period and final court approval.