money.jpgA meat processing company has agreed to pay $850,000 in fines to San Mateo County related to its handling of hazardous gas at a South San Francisco facility, a deputy district attorney said today.

According to a stipulation judgment filed Monday in San Mateo County Superior Court, Columbus Manufacturing, Inc. agreed to pay the settlement fines and update its internal alert systems that detect ammonia gas that is accidentally released and warn the public of a potential hazard, Deputy District Attorney John Wilson said.

The Hayward-based company, which produces Italian-style deli meats and sausage products, uses a refrigeration system at its South San Francisco manufacturing plant on Forbes Boulevard that contains more than 500 pounds of ammonia gas, according to the district attorney’s office.

More than a dozen employees at the plant and nearby businesses were hospitalized for exposure in August 2009 when about 200 pounds of ammonia gas leaked into the neighborhood, according to the South San Francisco Fire Department.

At least 16 others were treated at the scene for minor respiratory problems, and several roads in the area were shut down for nearly five hours.

The leak occurred when a contractor was working on the roof of the plant’s refrigeration system, Columbus Manufacturing CEO Timothy Fallon said, adding that the company has safely operated a manufacturing facility in San Mateo County for more than 50 years.

“The accident was really unfortunate,” Fallon said. “We’ve been very proactive with the regulatory agencies to get this resolved.”

The settlement agreement filed with the court was entered without findings of wrongdoing on the part of Columbus Foods, Wilson said.

“Our real goal in these cases is to protect the public,” he said.

Under terms of the settlement, Columbus has agreed to install sensors at its plant that can detect an ammonia gas leak and set off internal and external alarms to alert plant employees and neighboring businesses.

The company is also working with the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office to coordinate its internal alarms with a countywide emergency notification system, which would telephonically alert the public in the event of a hazardous leak, Wilson said.

The $850,000 settlement will be divided by various local agencies that responded to the ammonia leak and investigated the facility, including the South San Francisco Fire Department, the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and the department of environmental health, Wilson said.

Chris Cooney, Bay City News

Want more news, sent to your inbox every day? Then how about subscribing to our email newsletter? Here’s why we think you should. Come on, give it a try.

Please make sure your comment adheres to our comment policy. If it doesn't, it may be deleted. Repeat violations may cause us to revoke your commenting privileges. No one wants that!