San-Francisco-based Columbus Manufacturing Inc. has agreed to pay penalties of around $700,000 and spend $6m upgrading its refrigeration system after reaching a settlement with the federal government
The penalties are in relation to a 2009 ammonia leak at the facility that sickened 17 people.
The settlement came as a result of a US Clean Air Act lawsuit filed against the company by the US Justice Department on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
According to the EPA, anhydrous ammonia is an extremely hazardous substance – potentially causing temporary blindness and eye damage. Prolonged exposure can lead to lung damage, the agency added.
The company, which is a subsidiary of Columbus Foods, released 217 pounds of anhydrous ammonia into the atmosphere in February 2009, and a second cloud later that year.
The second cloud moved downwind to the nearby Genentech Inc. campus – resulting in the hospitalisation of 17 people.