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Airgas closes Black Betsy fill plant

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Citing cost efficiency, a Putnam County plant that employs 12 people is shutting down.

Airgas, located along W.Va. 62 in the Black Betsy area near Poca, was the scene of a large explosion earlier this year, but company officials said the blast had nothing to do with the decision to close.

The closure was effective Wednesday. None of the other six Airgas facilities in the region will be affected, according to a statement from the Pennsylvania-based company.

The facility is a low-to-mid-volume cylinder fill plant.

Two workers were injured in the May 13 blast, which caused a large fire. More than 50 acetylene cylinders in an outside storage area exploded in the incident. Two men suffered burns and were hospitalized.

Acetylene is a colorless, highly reactive and extraordinarily flammable gas used in welding, according to the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Sarah Stockton-Brown, communications manager for the company, said in the release that the plant closure was not a result of the fire.

The plant was operating in a limited capacity since the incident. The temporary shut down and reduced level of operations did speed up an evaluation of the plant, she said.

The company periodically reviews its facilities, which include retail stores, gas fill plants, specialty gas labs, and distribution centers, to make sure they are operating efficiently and meeting customers' needs, she said.

Sometimes those reviews prompt the company to make changes.

"The process of sending cylinders out to alternate Airgas locations in the region for filling has been running smoothly, and showed a lesser need for the plant in Poca," Stockton-Brown said in the statement.

"Therefore, it was determined to no longer be efficient from a cost perspective to continue to operate the facility."

The 12 employees each received a severance package, Stockton-Brown said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company earlier this month for six violations, four of which were deemed "serious," after investigating the May incident, according to archived reports. The violations carried up to $19,000 in fines.  

Airgas, founded in 1982, is the largest U.S. distributor of industrial, medical and specialty gases. The company has more than 15,000 employees at 1,100 locations around the U.S.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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