Gristedes faces $14 million in fines for toxic refrigerant leaks; two UES branches are worst hit

The Gristedes, 1343 Lexington Avenue, c/o Google Maps

New York supermarket giant Gristedes must invest nearly $14 million to upgrade its refrigeration plant after violating an Environmental Protection Agency law that led to the release of enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. The news was announced Monday in a press release from the Southern District of New York.

The lawsuit filed by the Justice Department accuses Gristedes of leaking more than 40,000 pounds of “climate-damaging coolant” from its commercial refrigerators between 2019 and 2021.

“Many of these coolants are harmful to human health and the environment: they are toxic when inhaled, they destroy the ozone layer, and they contribute to the greenhouse effect, one of the drivers of climate change,” says the complaint filed by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams. “These coolant leaks have a greenhouse effect equivalent to driving an average gasoline-powered vehicle 140,000,000 additional miles.”

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Gristedes owns and operates about twenty stores in New York City, including six on the Upper East Side. The lawsuit cites as an example a violation related to a device at the Gristedes location at 1446 Second Avenue (at East 75th Street) that had a leak rate of 323% in 2019. Leak rates above 20% must be repaired, retrofitted or shut down entirely, according to the law.

Both the Second Avenue location and Gristedes at 1343 Lexington Avenue (at East 89th Street) each have twenty appliances that need to be repaired or replaced—more than any other single Gristedes location.

“As a result of our lawsuit, Gristedes is now required to reduce its emissions by over 70% from 2020 levels to offset at least some of the harm it has caused. If it fails to do so, the company faces significant additional penalties under the settlement decision,” Williams said in a statement.

Gristedes will pay a $400,000 civil penalty and must spend more than $13.5 million to upgrade or replace its refrigeration systems. A settlement attached to the ruling states Gristedes must reduce its leak rate at all stores from 59% in 2020 to 16% within four years.