Gas mask manufacturer sues supplier for $5 million


Owings Mills-based Air Technologies Inc., a 30-year-old filter and purifier maker, is charging that a supplier's faulty carbon caused the Army to cancel Air Technology's gas mask supply contract just as the Desert Shield buildup started last summer.

In a suit filed in Baltimore's federal district court this week, Air Technologies said that the nation's biggest carbon producer's quality problems have pushed Air Technologies to the brink of bankruptcy.

The company is suing Calgon Carbon Corp. for $5 million.

Gail Gerono, a Calgon spokeswoman, said her company would have no comment on the suit.

Sam Steinberg, founder and president of Air Technologies, saiyesterday in a telephone interview that losing the contract forced Air Technologies to lay off 68 of the company's 79 workers and to place its Puerto Rican manufacturing subsidiary in bankruptcy.

Mr. Steinberg said that he has been thinking of declaring bankruptcy for the parent corporation, which now has three employees.

Mr. Steinberg, who started Air Technologies after retiring from the Edgewood Arsenal in 1961, said yesterday that he was "pretty happy" when he got a $1.8 million Army contract for 120,000 gas masks in 1988.

Although his company had been making air purifiers for homes and businesses for years, "It was the biggest contract we had gotten," he said.

began selling off divisions of his company and setting up a gas mask manufacturing operation in Puerto Rico, which offered lower-wage workers and tax advantages.

But by 1990 Air Technologies was in trouble. The Army had sent back hundreds of thousands of gas masks that didn't screen out toxic chemicals that might be used against soldiers. "We had 400,000 to 500,000 gas masks that had to be destroyed," Mr. Steinberg said.

He said that he believes the masks failed because the Calgon carbon used in the filters was not impregnated with the proper chemicals.

Last August, the Army canceled the contract, wiping out his biggest customer and, Mr. Steinberg said, casting a blot on his business's reputation.

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