Tennessee residents complain Jack Daniels is polluting community with ‘whiskey fungus’

‘I’m extremely concerned. My wife has breathing problems. One of the neighbours got cancer,’ resident says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Wednesday 01 March 2023 15:53 GMT
Tennessee residents complain Jack Daniels is polluting community with ‘whiskey fungus’

Residents in a Tennessee community are fed up with what they call “whiskey fungus” – a black mould covering their homes, cars, porches, and other areas.

The Baudoinia compniacensis – whiskey fungus – is supposedly fueled by the ethanol vapour coming from the Jack Daniel’s buildings in the area and has affected the Lincoln County residents since the firm began construction on six barrel houses in 2018 and set plans in motion to build another 14.

Enraged locals are arguing that the company and the county must take responsibility for the mould as well as the decreasing home prices, and show that air filled with ethanol is safe to breathe.

Patrick Long lives near the barrel houses along with his wife Christi, and they have sued the county.

The area residents are putting forward two main requirements, he told Insider – the installation of an air-filtration system blocking the emissions of ethanol and limiting the fungus growing in the county, and for an environmental impact study to be conducted reviewing the amount of ethanol coming from the barrel houses and what health dangers it may pose.

“I’m extremely concerned. My wife has breathing problems. One of the neighbours got cancer,” Mr Long told the outlet. “It’s in the air. And you really, probably don’t want to be breathing that in. But nobody has done a test to determine if it’s actually poisonous.”

He said the six barrel houses currently located near his home result in him having to spend about $10,000 annually on power-washing his home using water and Clorox.

He added that officials in the area have ceased trying to clean the street signs, instead replacing them when they’re no longer readable.

Ms Long’s lawsuit against the county Board of Planning and Zoning argues that the county must order a stop work order to stop the planned construction of additional barrel houses, claiming that the company’s initial construction was out of the bounds of the law and that they don’t have the correct site-plan approval and building permits for their site.

About 200 people from the community and Jack Daniel’s staff attended a public hearing in December of last year.

Becky Benson Carroll said she has stage four lung cancer that has reached her brain. She added that her dog has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I think there is a concern for the quality of our lives,” she said at the meeting, according to The Moore County News. “Unfortunately, I won’t get to see the results of all of this.”

“I’m a strong, healthy person and this should not have happened. I can’t prove it was from this ethanol, but somebody needs to prove that it is not. I’m in favour of the filtration system,” she said.

The vice president and assistant general manager at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Melvin Keebler, told her she had the company’s “sympathy and empathy,” adding that they are complying with all regulations.

“All of our warehouses are permitted appropriately,” he said. “The air quality inside the warehouses is monitored continuously, and we have the utmost priority for protecting the environment for the safety and health of our employees and our neighbours.”

He said all their permits are “in compliance” and that the company wishes to “do everything right”.

“It’s been a great relationship with Moore County and Lincoln County,” he added at the time. “We hope that relationship continues.”

He said that the kind of air filtration technology available isn’t applicable to the work that Jack Daniel’s does.

In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Jack Daniel’s said that “while we can’t comment on the specifics of the pending litigation, I can tell you that Jack Daniel’s complies with all local, state, and federal regulations regarding the design, construction and permitting of our barrel houses. We are dedicated to protecting the environment and the safety and health of our employees and neighbors”.

The mould has reached as far as a mile from the barrel houses, which can hold tens of thousands of barrels of whiskey, leading to part of the alcohol evaporating through the wood barrels’ pores and reaching the air – whiskey manufacturers call it the “angel’s share”.

The mould was initially identified by researchers in 2007 who found that the angel’s share was the source of the mildew.

The EPA declined to comment when reached by The Independent.

The Independent has reached out to Lincoln County for comment.

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