Airgas, an industrial gas distributor that is one of Alabama’s largest suppliers, has announced it will not supply gas for executions. “[S]upplying nitrogen for the purpose of human execution is not consistent with our company values,” the company said in a statement.
Alabama lawmakers added nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative execution method to lethal injection in 2018, following Oklahoma and Mississippi.
Oklahoma became the first state to adopt a measure allowing prison staff to use nitrogen gas to execute people after the botched lethal injection execution of Clayton Lockett in 2014 led to a halt in executions.
Oklahoma State Rep. Mike Christian reportedly saw a documentary about killing humans that included a segment on nitrogen inhalation, and he and two others with no scientific or medical knowledge presented a report on nitrogen to the state legislature in 2014. Lawmakers passed a bill allowing nitrogen hypoxia as a backup method to lethal injection, and then-Gov. Mary Fallin signed it into law in 2015.
Despite the absence of scientific evidence on executing people with nitrogen, Mississippi passed a similar law in 2017, and on March 22, 2018, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation making Alabama the third state in the country to allow executions by nitrogen gas.
Using nitrogen gas to execute a person is untested and has never been done in the U.S.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has long rejected nitrogen gas as an acceptable method for euthanizing animals, and nitrogen is not used for terminal patients in states where medically assisted dying is legal.
Nitrogen, which kills by replacing oxygen, has killed people in industrial and medical accidents, including a liquid-nitrogen leak at a Georgia poultry plant that left six people dead just last year.
ADOC has acknowledged in court that nitrogen gas presents “the dangers of inert-gas asphyxiation to employees.”
Airgas said in December that it “has not and will not supply Alabama nitrogen or other inert gases to induce hypoxia for the purpose of human execution.” A company spokesperson said in a statement that it contacted the State of Alabama to “reinforce the point and ensure that there was no confusion regarding Airgas’ position.”
The company’s CEO further stated that Airgas is not “working with the state of Alabama, or anyone else, to develop nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method.”
Airgas, now owned by the French company Air Liquide, has become the largest U.S. distribution network in the packaged gas industry, according to its website.
With 24 branches in Alabama, Airgas is one of the state’s largest suppliers of gas. State agencies including forensic sciences, conservation and natural resources, transportation, and public health collectively spent over $287,000 with Airgas in fiscal year 2022, al.com reports.
The Alabama Department of Corrections purchased $1,634 in products or services from Airgas, but al.com reported there are no details about what was purchased. Airgas said ADOC does not currently have nitrogen cylinders from the company.
Airgas is not the first company to refuse participation in Alabama executions. Last year, a Tennessee company, FDRsafety, terminated its contract to help ADOC create a gas chamber after a public outcry led by faith leaders.