A group of Frankfort residents is suing two local distilleries, claiming the ethanol emissions from the liquor-making process have left their property damaged with whiskey fungus.
Michael R. Mills, of 108 Forest Ridge Drive, Angela Conway, of 414 Noel Ave., and Kayleigh Count, of 112 Oaklawn Drive, filed the suit Wednesday in Franklin Circuit Court against Buffalo Trace Distillery and Beam Inc. They’re seeking unspecified compensation for damage to property.
The suit says whiskey fungus – known scientifically as Baudoinia Compniacensis — is created by a chemical reaction involving ethanol emissions, which are produced by liquor distillers when ethanol evaporates from the whiskey barrels during the aging process.
The emissions lead to build-up of the whiskey fungus, which creates a black, soot-like appearance on homes and vehicles, the suit says.
“This fungus, this mold, whatever it is, it’s eating the paint off,” Count said, as she motioned toward the faded siding and support columns at her home several blocks from Buffalo Trace. “I have to hand-wash my house every single year.”
Count, who says she’s lived at her home for six years, said she’s complained to the distillery before, but employees told her the marks on her home came from living near the river and not the distillery. But Count disagrees.
“It’s not nature’s fault – it’s the distillery’s fault, so I’d like the distillery to come and help these homeowners in some way,” Count said. “Property values, car values – these are things people work for to keep up everything.”
William McMurry, who filed a similar suit in U.S. District Court in Louisville last month on behalf of a group of Louisville residents, is representing the local property owners. Ben Carter, of Morris & Player in Louisville, is listed as co-counsel.
The residents say they contacted McMurry about their homes after seeing the Louisville lawsuit on the news.
McMurry said he was “blown away” when he came to Frankfort, especially when he saw the condition of the homes in The Maples subdivision, where Mills lives, near the Jim Beam distillery.
“(The Maples) is an idyllic neighborhood, with beautiful, well-maintained homes … The last thing you would expect is for them to look like they’re located near some coal-fired furnace,” McMurry said.
The distilleries are being sued on five counts, including negligence, nuisance and liability. The suit isn’t claiming personal injury, as McMurry said, generally speaking, the fungus hasn’t been proven harmful to human health.
Believing there may be more concerned Frankfort residents than just Count, Conway and Mills, McMurry is seeking class-action status. He’s hosting a public meeting 6-8 p.m. Wednesday at Capital Plaza Hotel, and has created a website, www.whiskeyfunguslawsuit.com, with pictures of affected homes and more information on the fungus.
McMurry said he wants to emphasize the suit is not an assault on the bourbon industry, but rather a way to help “exasperated residents” who have no other options.
“We’re making no attack on the product itself – we’re only critical of the process it’s being allowed to be made under,” McMurry said. “Unless we can stop these distilleries from releasing high levels of ethanol concentration in the air, this problem won’t go away.”
Count agreed, saying she has relatives who’ve worked in the distilleries and that she respects what Buffalo Trace does for tourism in Frankfort.
“Bourbon has raised a lot of children in Kentucky,” she said. “I think it’s important to find a way to make it work for everyone.”
A spokeswoman with Buffalo Trace said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Beam, Inc. could not be reached for comment.