Supermarket refrigerant leaks caught on camera

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released the details of an investigation into refrigerant leakage in US supermarkets. The project, aimed at raising mainstream awareness of refrigerant management issues, is titled “Leaking Havoc” – and the results are indeed alarming.

EIA investigated dozens of supermarkets in the District of Columbia, Virginia, and Maryland using portable refrigerant leak detectors and found most stores to be leaking high-GWP refrigerants.

The investigation focused on Walmart and other top-grossing supermarkets in the region, documenting leaking systems and capturing invisible climate pollutants on video, as shown below.

“The invisible nature of the gases has allowed companies to overlook refrigerant emissions and calls to action,” says the EIA, “but with the right equipment, these gases are neither invisible nor immeasurable.”

Key findings from the investigation included:

  • Refrigerant leaks were detected in 60 per cent of the Walmart stores investigated, meaning over half of all stores were leaking
  • Across all other companies visited, 55 per cent of the stores visited were measurably leaking, consistent with concerns that refrigerant leaks are an industry-wide problem
  • Leaks persisted months later in the few stores revisited – an indication that routine leak inspection or repair did not occur, or was not effective in detecting the leaks.

The EIA believes the findings only scratch the surface of the problem.

“A majority of commercial refrigerators are designed in such a way that most of the refrigerant-containing parts are not in the retail space where we were detecting,” says the EIA. “In fact, only 21 per cent of all supermarket leaks are found in the display cases at all, with the majority of the other 79 per cent of leaks occurring in the compressor racks and remote air-cooled condensers, none of which are accessible to the sales floor.

“Without access to the large storage cold rooms, machine rooms, rooftop cooling units, and intricate case piping, we could not identify every possible location of a refrigerant leak, or verify a leak presence.”

“While this is a limitation of our methodology, it also suggests that our study undercounted supermarket HFC leaks. A more thorough investigation, with access to more than just the sales floor, may show that supermarket leaks are even more common and severe than we report.”

The EIA recommends that both company policies and government regulations need improvement to ensure all leaks, even those detectable only at small concentrations, are promptly identified and repaired in every store. It is also advocating for supermarkets to move to HFC-free technology as soon as possible.

The investigation is receiving mainstream attention, and comes at a time when the US government has committed to phasing down HFCs through the American Innovation and Manufacturing Act.

To read the full report, click here.

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