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Supermarket group agrees to pay $300,000 penalty for HCFC leaks

USA: Southeastern Grocers (SEG) and its subsidiaries BI-LO LLC and Winn-Dixie Stores has agreed to pay a $300,000 civil penalty for alleged violations relating to leaks of ozone-depleting refrigerants.

The company has agreed to reduce emissions of ozone-depleting refrigerant from equipment at 576 stores under a proposed settlement with the US Department of Justice and the US Environmental Protection Agency to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement and in addition to the $300,000 civil penalty, SEG will also spend an estimated $4.2m over the next three years to reduce coolant leaks from refrigerators and other equipment and improve company-wide compliance.

In addition to BI-LO and Winn-Dixie Stores, the group also operates Fresco y Más and Harveys Supermarket outlets. The 576 stores are located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina. 

SEG is alleged to have violated the US Clean Air Act by failing to promptly repair leaks of ozone-depleting substances, failing to keep adequate servicing records of its refrigeration equipment and failing to provide information about its compliance record.

“This consent decree will help assure SEG’s future compliance with the Clean Air Act’s ozone-depletion programme — by requiring leak monitoring, centralised computer record keeping, and searchable electronic reporting to EPA,” said assistant attorney general Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“Through this settlement, Southeastern Grocers will implement concrete steps to reduce leaks of ozone depleting gases from the refrigeration equipment in their stores,” said EPA assistant administrator for enforcement and compliance assurance Susan Bodine. “These steps will not only help to prevent damage to the environment, but should also help save energy.”

SEG will now implement a corporate refrigerant compliance management system to comply with federal stratospheric ozone regulations and to detect and repair leaks through a new bi-monthly leak monitoring programme. In addition, SEG will achieve and maintain an annual corporate-wide average leak rate of 17% through 2022, well below the US grocery store sector average of 25%.

The agreement says that SEG must also use non-ozone depleting “advanced refrigerants” at all new stores, and an additional 15 existing, that currently use mainly the HCFCs R22, R407A and R408A.

“Advanced refrigerants” are defined as R744, R448A, R449A, R513A, R450A, “or an equivalent EPA approved refrigerant”. The agreement ties SEG to a company-wide average leak rate that is at or below 21% in year one, 19% in the second year, and 17% in year three. Failure to achieve those targets will result in further penalties.

EPA regulations issued under the Clean Air Act require that owners or operators of commercial refrigeration equipment that contain over 50lb of ozone-depleting refrigerants repair any leaks within 30 days.

The settlement is the fourth in a series of national grocery store refrigerant cases, including cases previously filed against Safeway, Costco Wholesale and Trader Joe’s.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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