SAN JOSE, CALIF. — The Kellogg Co. was charged Dec. 9 in the Santa Clara district court for a delay reporting a leak of anhydrous ammonia at its Eggo waffle manufacturing facility in San Jose.

The company was criminally charged with negligently discharging an air contaminant, failing to immediately report that release, providing inadequate training to its contractors and failing to implement an adequate emergency action plan. Kellogg was ordered to pay a fine of approximately $85,000, according to the court.

The leak occurred on Jan. 22, 2021, when a subcontractor on a scissor lift damaged a pipe containing anhydrous ammonia. The damaged pipe immediately began releasing anhydrous ammonia, a toxic gas that can cause severe injury or death, Jason Bussey, deputy district attorney, said. 

Managers of the Eggo facility did not report the release to authorities until more than an hour had passed. Mr. Bussey said they mistakenly believed they had stopped the leak. 

“Public safety and the environment are threatened with every passing minute in these cases,” Mr. Bussey said. “When companies fail to immediately report a release, they face serious consequences.”

The delay reporting the leak created an incident in which approximately 3,400 lbs of anhydrous ammonia escaped into the surrounding neighborhood. Residents of the neighborhood were ordered to shelter in place for several hours while first responders stopped the leak. No injuries were reported.

Anhydrous ammonia is a common refrigerant used in food processing operations. Kellogg’s San Jose facility uses the gas to freeze the waffles it produces.

The company cooperated with regulatory authorities and is upgrading its systems and procedures to prevent future releases. 

“At Kellogg, the safety of our workers and the environment are top priorities,” said Kris Bahner, Kellogg spokesperson. “Thankfully, no one was injured in last year’s ammonia incident. Since that time, we’ve made a number of significant enhancements to our processes and protocols to ensure we have the safest possible environment for our employees and neighbors.”