Meat Processing Plant Will Address Ammonia Leak Concerns
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered Columbus Manufacturing of South San Francisco, Calif., to address safety concerns in the facility’s ammonia refrigeration systems following a recent release of an extremely hazardous chemical into the environment. Columbus, a meat processing company, has agreed to comply with the order.
During an August 2009 incident, the plant, located at 493 Forbes Boulevard, accidentally released approximately 200 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the air. The release resulted in the evacuation of all facility employees and several neighboring businesses. Nearly 30 people from the nearby Genentech campus sought medical attention and 17 individuals were hospitalized. One person remained hospitalized for four days. In addition, off-ramps from Highway 101 and several local streets were shut down as a result of the release.
“This release of an extremely hazardous chemical is unacceptable. It’s critical that Columbus Manufacturing take specific actions to safeguard its employees and neighbors,” said Jared Blumenfeld, regional administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest region. “EPA will vigorously enforce federal rules to protect public health. As a result of these dangerous accidental releases, the company may also face substantial federal fines.”
Anhydrous ammonia is considered a poisonous gas. Exposure to its vapors can cause temporary blindness and eye damage, and irritation of the skin, mouth, throat, respiratory tract and mucous membranes. Prolonged exposure to anhydrous ammonia vapor at high concentrations can lead to serious lung damage and even death.
The facility’s accidental release in August was allegedly caused by a buildup of hydrostatic pressure in a section of piping that caused the subsequent rupture of a nearby component. Following the incident, EPA and San Mateo County’s Division of Environmental Health Services inspected the facility and evaluated the company's ammonia refrigeration systems and safety management systems. The inspections revealed a number of safety concerns regarding the design and maintenance of the facility’s anhydrous ammonia refrigeration system.
EPA’s order requires Columbus Manufacturing to complete a series of tasks within the next three months. The tasks include the replacement of certain safety relief valves, the replacement of all components with any signs of corrosion or made from incompatible materials such as brass, and the proper tagging and labeling of all of its ammonia refrigeration system piping and valves. Within 105 days of this order, the facility will need to submit verification to EPA indicating compliance with all required actions.
The Clean Air Act requires owners and operators of stationary sources which produce, process, handle, or store hazardous substances to identify hazards which may result from the release of such substances, to design and maintain a safe facility, taking the necessary steps to prevent releases, and to minimize the consequences of accidental releases which do occur.