A salami company must pay nearly $700,000 in penalties and spend $6 million to upgrade its refrigeration system after a 2009 toxic gas leak at its South San Francisco plant sent 17 people to the hospital.
The details of the settlement were announced Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which charged that Columbus Manufacturing Inc. of Hayward violated environmental regulations when it twice accidentally released anhydrous ammonia from a refrigeration system at its South City plant.
As part of a federal consent decree lodged in federal court Tuesday, the company pledged to reduce its total ammonia usage and adopt safer refrigeration technology.
According to the EPA, exposure to anhydrous ammonia, which is used as a fertilizer or industrial refrigerant, can burn the eyes, skin and respiratory system. High doses can cause temporary blindness or death.
In a statement, company CEO Tim Fallon said that Columbus, which manufactures salami and other deli meat, took environmental safety seriously.
“Columbus has a 95-year-history of doing the right thing,” he said. “The accident was an unfortunate result of actions made by a third-party contractor during a plant upgrade.”