Airgas refuses to supply nitrogen for Alabama executions

By Ivana Hrynkiw

This photo doesn’t reflect nitrogen being used for executions. It depicts a liquid nitrogen tank used for food purposes.

One of Alabama’s largest suppliers of gas won’t supply nitrogen to the state’s prison system for nitrogen hypoxia executions.

Airgas, which was acquired by French-owned Air Liquide in 2016, is the largest U.S. distribution network in the packaged gas industry. The company has 24 branches in Alabama.

In a statement, an Airgas spokesperson said supplying gas for executions doesn’t fit in with the company’s mission. “Notwithstanding the philosophical and intellectual debate of the death penalty itself, supplying nitrogen for the purpose of human execution is not consistent with our company values.”

Airgas contacted Alabama in December to “reinforce the point and ensure that there was no confusion regarding Airgas’ position,” said the spokesperson.

“Therefore, Airgas has not and will not supply Alabama nitrogen or other inert gases to induce hypoxia for the purpose of human execution. Airgas’ contact with the State of Alabama has acknowledged receipt of our recent communication and confirmed their understanding.”

No state has yet to conduct an execution by nitrogen hypoxia, which would in theory kill a person by forcing them to breathe in nitrogen without any source of oxygen, leading to asphyxiation.

Alabama approved this method of killing death row inmates in 2018, and gave people sitting on Alabama Death Row a month-long window that summer to decide if they wanted to change their execution method from lethal injection to the untested-method of nitrogen hypoxia.

Read more: Alabama bungled ‘haphazard’ process of letting death row inmates choose execution method, lawsuits say

That process has come under scrutiny in lawsuits, from federal judges and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Executive Director Bianca Tylek of Worth Rises, a nonprofit that works to dismantle the prison industry and those who profit off of incarceration, applauded Airgas’ commitment to not aiding in executions.

“There is no ethical way to kill people,” she said.

“But to the extent that it has been causing extensive harm and trauma, and the governor has finally imposed a moratorium, we hope that disrupting the technological progress of nitrogen hypoxia causes Alabama and its leaders to reflect on their moral progress and terminate the death penalty altogether.”

Airgas’ chief executive officer told Worth Rises in a letter—which was confirmed by Airgas to be legitimate— that “any suggestion that Airgas is working with the state of Alabama, or anyone else, to develop nitrogen hypoxia as an execution method is categorically false.”

That letter also stated that the Alabama Department of Corrections “does not currently have nitrogen cylinders owned by Airgas, according to our records.”

Alabama spends hundreds of thousands of dollars with Airgas each year.

Airgas, which supplies gases other than nitrogen along with gas equipment, welding products, and safety products, was paid $287,247.92 by the state during fiscal year 2022, according to state records.

Multiple state industries were involved in the purchases, including the departments of forensic sciences, conservation and natural resources, transportation, public health and others.

Records show the ADOC purchased approximately $1,634, but there are no details as to what was purchased from the company.

Airgas’ stance on Alabama’s desire to implement nitrogen executions comes on the heels of Gov. Kay Ivey’s announcement in November that no executions would happen while an internal review was conducted on the ADOC’s lethal injection protocol.

Tylek said she hopes this marks the beginning of the end for Alabama executions. “Nobody has the right to kill somebody else. Period,” she said. “It doesn’t make you a greater human being because you’ve killed someone who has killed someone.”

In Alabama, four death row inmates were set to die by lethal injection in 2022; two of them survived after workers at the ADOC couldn’t start an intravenous line for the injections before the death warrants expired at midnight on their respective execution dates.

“If officers have not been able to locate a vein for lethal injection, then I have zero confidence that an officer will be able to properly seal a mask to ensure others don’t get hurt,” said Tylek.

“These are simple tasks, and to not get them right illustrates a much boarder issue that the death penalty cannot morally be carried out.”