The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), an NGO based in Washington, D.C., and London, and the climate group have reported discovering “what appears to be significant emissions” of high-GWP HFC refrigerants at stores operated by the New York supermarket chain Gristedes. 

Using infrared leak detection, the EIA/350NYC investigation reports finding leaks in all seven of the tested Gristedes supermarket stores. Gristedes operates over 30 stores in New York City (Manhattan and Brooklyn) and Westchester County, a suburb north of the city.

“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, an activist with 350NYC. Perkins urged “Gristedes and other supermarket companies to clean up their act-“as HFC leaks from supermarkets are “clearly a major source” of climate pollution.

The Gristedes supermarket chain is operated by the Red Apple Group, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

According to EIA, some of the investigated stores also had refrigeration units labeled as containing ozone-depleting HCFCs and CFCs, which are subject to requirements contained in the Clean Air Act, including tracking and repairing major leaks. HFCs are not currently subject to leak-repair regulations, but new rules are being developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the American Innovation and Manufacturing (AIM) Act. “The AIM Act grants EPA the authority to minimize leaks and maximize recovery, reclaim and destruction,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD).

EIA feels the investigation at the seven stores “raises red flags” concerning Gristedes’ use of outdated equipment, refrigerant management practices and possibly its compliance with existing and upcoming environmental regulations.

“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 EIA. “Other supermarket retailers are taking action to implement leak reduction initiatives and adopt HFC-free cooling.”

Comparison to earlier study

EIA finds the HFC leaks in all seven Gristedes supermarkets stores “alarming”, especially in comparison to testing conducted in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area two years ago. In that EIA investigation, 57% of D.C. supermarket stores were found to have “measurable” HFC refrigerant leaks. Less than 5% of the detected leaks in D.C. were over the alarm threshold of 100ppm with 67% of the leaks lower than 10ppm on the sales floor. 

“While small in concentration at any single location, even small concentrations have the potential to lead to major leaks over time,” EIA said. EIA feels that HFC leak detection and response, even at seemingly low ppm, needs to be taken more seriously in the supermarket industry.

Natural refrigerant-based HFC-free refrigeration technologies and best practices for leak prevention and detection are widely available and cost-effective. “Hundreds of stores have already installed HFC-free refrigeration,” EIA said. More information on strategies to reduce HFC emissions can be found here.

A 2022 report issued by EIA in coalition with IGSD and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) declares lifecycle refrigerant management can save 90 billion metric tons of CO2e emissions through f-gas leak prevention, capturing, and reuse.

“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.”

Margaret Perkins, 350NYC