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US supermarkets failing to act on HFC leaks, says EIA

USA: An undercover study by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) in 45 US supermarkets is said to have found that 55% of the stores were measurably leaking HFC refrigerants.

A new report, Leaking Havoc: Exposing Your Supermarket’s Invisible Climate Pollution, is the result of an investigation begun in the autumn of 2019 amongst supermarkets in the greater Washington, DC area, including Maryland and Virginia. Despite the investigation being curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, the environmental group claims to have conclusively detected “climate pollution” in refrigerated aisles.

Using industry-standard leak detectors, investigators are said to have inspected each store’s retail area for refrigerant leaks, documenting the concentration of refrigerant detected by the equipment in ppm.

The EIA says that its investigation captured video evidence of HFCs leaking out onto products in an open refrigerated display case in a store.

The investigation focused on Walmart and other top-grossing supermarkets in the region. It claims that 60% of the Walmart stores investigated by EIA had a refrigerant leak, with 55% of all stores visited “measurably leaking super pollutants”. A few stores were said to have had high concentrations of HFCs still present months later.

“It is appalling that supermarkets are failing to confront and control these easily preventable emissions, given our climate crisis,” said Avipsa Mahapatra, EIA’s climate campaign lead. “Our investigation makes it obvious that this glaring inaction is a crime against our climate, and should really be illegal.”

Three different leak detection technologies were used, including two portable leak detectors and a specialised infrared camera, to visualise leak dispersion. In all cases, EIA says industry-accepted guidelines to operate and record leaks in ppm were followed. All concentrations detected above 2ppm were considered an indicator of a potential significant leak in a given store, as per guidance provided by Bacharach, the manufacturer of the leak detection equipment. Leaks detected ranged in concentration on the sales floor, with concentrations up to 182ppm.

Walmart has been invited to comment.

The full report is available here.

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