EPA has beef with salami plant 

The feds have laid down the law on a South City salami processing plant responsible for two separate ammonia leaks last year — one which injured nearly 30 people in the densely-populated area, including employees at the nearby Genentech campus.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently ordered Columbus Manufacturing Inc., which operates a meat processing plant on Forbes Boulevard, to take corrective action within three months or face fines after post-incident inspections revealed several safety violations at the facility.

The company expects “to complete all of the tasks outlined on or ahead of schedule,” spokesman Bob Wynne said.

Failure to comply within that time period could cost the company up to $37,500 for every day its operation is not up to snuff, said Nick Vidargas, an attorney for the EPA.

Ammonia leaks occurred at the facility on Feb. 17 and Aug. 28 — the first releasing 217 pounds of the poisonous gas into the air, the second 200 pounds, according to an EPA filing.

The February leak did not result in injury. However, the August incident, which was unrelated to the previous leak, wreaked havoc on surrounding businesses in the area — a dense commercial and light-industrial district that includes a number of child care facilities.

Of the 30 people who were injured from breathing in the gas, 17 were hospitalized, one for four days, the EPA said. The gas can be blinding, cause lung damage, and can be deadly with ample exposure, the agency said.

Ammonia is used in the plant’s cooling system to keep products chilled after processing, said Jeremy Johnstone, an environmental engineer with the EPA.

The leak occurred after a buildup of pressure in the piping system caused a rupture, the agency said.

“We’re not calling anything negligent,” Johnstone said. “But there certainly was error.”

maldax@sfexaminer.com

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