Gristedes Supermarkets Admits to Leaking Climate Pollutants

Legal Action following Investigations

Gristedes Supermarkets, a major New York grocery chain, has admitted to and accepted responsibility for violations that resulted in the substantial release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Legal action taken by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York against Gristedes Supermarkets for significant violations of refrigerant management, mandates a US$400,000 civil penalty and extensive repairs, costing millions of dollars, to curb future emissions of harmful refrigerants. 

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA US) and 350NYC.org investigated Gristedes stores in September 2022 using an industry-recognized portable leak detector, and found all seven stores were leaking super pollutant greenhouse gases used as refrigerants in violation of regulations under the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Recycling and Emissions Reduction Rule. 

“Supermarkets have no excuse to continue using and leaking potent climate pollutants. Our investigations showed how Gristedes was failing to control these preventable emissions, violating laws and damaging our planet. This legal action is a welcome warning to companies that there are serious consequences to climate inaction.” said Avipsa Mahapatra, Climate Campaign Director, EIA US.

Gristedes was using hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) 4,000 times more powerful than CO2., as well as hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which destroy the ozone layer and the climate. All of the substances noted in EIA and 350NYC’s investigation into Gristedes stores are subject to regulation. Ozone depleting refrigerants are subject to existing Clean Air Act requirements for supermarket owners to track and repair major leaks. The investigation findings, representing 35% of the company’s total locations, not only demonstrated leaks but also strongly suggested a company-wide problem of using outdated equipment prone to high leak rates. 

Margaret Perkins from 350NYC.org said: “This action emphasizes the importance of monitoring and continuous enforcement of the EPA regulations on refrigerant emissions.”

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams highlighted the severity of the violations, noting that between 2019 and 2021, Gristedes’ refrigerant emissions equate to the global warming impact of driving a car 140,000,000 miles. As a result of the lawsuit, Gristedes is required to reduce its emissions by over 70% from their 2020 levels to mitigate the environmental damage caused.

EIA US and 350NYC.org applaud this legal outcome, which requires Gristedes to take actions such as:

  • Pay a civil penalty of US$400,000.
  • Implement repairs and upgrades to commercial refrigeration equipment at an estimated cost of US$13,500,000.
  • Adopt a comprehensive refrigerant compliance management plan.
  • Convert three stores to use advanced refrigerants with low global warming potential.
  • Reduce corporate-wide leak rates below 16%.

Failure to comply with these mandates will result in significant additional penalties.

This news follows action on polluting HFC gases out of the state of Washington, where the state’s Department of Ecology issued a US$1.6 million penalty to the Home Depot for selling prohibited HFC products.