Dangerous Climate Pollutant Leaks Uncovered in NYC Supermarket Chain
New York City, NY – A new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in partnership with the climate group 350NYC.org uncovers what appear to be significant emissions of super-pollutant greenhouse gases from the local NYC supermarket chain Gristedes. Invisible leaks of refrigerants from supermarket cooling systems are a major source of climate pollution. According to New York state’s recently finalized climate roadmap, supermarket refrigerant leaks are the state’s largest source of emissions from hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), synthetic coolants that have a global warming impact thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide.
EIA and 350NYC investigated Gristedes stores using an infrared leak detector to test for the presence of refrigerant leaks. Alarmingly, the investigation found leaks in all seven of the Gristedes stores that were investigated, a significant increase over the proportion of stores found to have leaks in a previous investigation of other supermarkets elsewhere in the country.
“It’s troubling that one of the most well-known local supermarkets in New York City is leaking these potent climate warming gases in so many stores,” said Margaret Perkins from 350NYC, “This is clearly a major source of climate pollution in our city and state. We urgently need Gristedes and other supermarket companies to clean up their act, and we also need New York’s agencies to take swift action to set strict leak detection regulations.”
The findings raise red flags about the company’s refrigerant management practices and potentially, its compliance with environmental regulations. Some of the Gristedes stores investigated were labeled as containing hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). HCFCs and CFCs are older refrigerants, now in the process of being phased out as they destroy the ozone layer as well as the climate. Ozone depleting refrigerants are subject to existing Clean Air Act requirements for supermarket owners to track and repair major leaks. Although our investigation cannot conclusively determine if the leaks constitute a violation of these laws, it strongly suggests the company is using outdated equipment that is prone to high leak rates. HFCs are unfortunately still not subject to current federal refrigerant leak management regulations, a fact that is expected to change with implementation of new regulations under the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act).
“Gristedes and other retailers have a responsibility to their customers to prevent their stores from leaking these dangerous pollutants,” said Christina Starr, Senior Policy Analyst with the Environmental Investigation Agency, “Other supermarket retailers are taking action to implement leak reduction initiatives and adopt HFC-free cooling. We see no evidence that Gristedes is taking actions to reduce their emissions and our findings raise questions as to whether the company is following federal regulations.”
Leak prevention and detection best practices and HFC-free technologies for refrigeration systems in supermarkets are widely available and cost effective. According to crowd-sourced data submitted to EIA’s climate-friendly supermarkets map, hundreds of stores have already installed HFC-free technologies. More information on corporate strategies to reduce HFC emissions is available at https://www.climatefriendlysupermarkets.org/company-actions.