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A report calls the level of HFC emissions, which add to greenhouse gases, "shocking."

Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - America's 12 largest supermarkets and retailers are failing to curb their hydrofluorocarbon emissions, adding large amounts of greenhouse gases to the environment, according to a new report.

The report, published by the nonprofit Environmental Investigation Agency, examined 12 retailers, including Costco, Whole Foods Markets, Target, Wal-Mart and the Delhaize Group, whose brands include Food Lion and Bottom Dollar Food.

Hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, are a class of compounds used in commercial refrigeration and air conditioning units. They are the fastest-growing greenhouse gas, and by 2050 will make up 9 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency.

"The results from the survey are not just disappointing but shocking, given that climate-friendly alternative technologies are available in the marketplace," said Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Some U.S. retailers are taking steps to reduce their HFC emissions. Whole Foods is opening an HFC-free store in Brooklyn later this year, and several stores have moved toward using a combination of HFCs and natural refrigerants in their cooling systems. Wal-Mart has 125 stores and two Sam's Club locations using the hybrid technology.

But all 12 stores lag far behind their counterparts in Canada, Japan and the European Union, the Environmental Investigation Agency said.

The nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, says it's taking steps to reduce its overall emissions.

"At Wal-Mart, we're committed to reducing our carbon footprint, and we're working with our suppliers to do the same," said Christopher Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications at Wal-Mart.

Unlike refrigerants like chlorofluorocarbons - or CFCs - and hydrochlorofluorocarbons - HCFCs - HFCs don't deplete the ozone layer, because they don't include chlorine. But they are greenhouse gases with the potential to contribute to global warming, said Robert Rhew, an atmospheric scientist and professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

"HFCs rank 6th in terms of the human-produced greenhouse gases, after carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, HCFCs and CFCs," Rhew said. "But they are rapidly increasing in the atmosphere, about 10-15 percent per year, and will therefore become an ever-greater greenhouse (force)."

The impact of HFCs on the environment depends on which type is emitted, as some HFCs are worse for the environment than others, Rhew said.

"If we can replace the current mix of HFCs with those with much shorter atmospheric lifetimes (they break down in the atmosphere quicker), then the impact can be minimized," Rhew said.