Attorney William McMurry has Frankfort bubbling over whiskey fungus, saying he’s received more than 100 calls from concerned residents and others since filing a suit against two local distilleries last week.
McMurry hosted a presentation Wednesday night at Capital Plaza Hotel, where about 30 came to learn more on the fungus.
“The question that has to be answered: (do) folks feel like the all-powerful liquor industry should be commanding that they live a certain way, that they incur $500-$1,000 a year in cleaning their homes?” McMurry said.
McMurry filed a lawsuit in Franklin Circuit Court last week on behalf of three Frankfort residents against Buffalo Trace Distillery and Beam Inc., in which he alleges whiskey fungus – known scientifically as Baudoinia Compniacensis – is damaging and devaluing his clients’ property.
Paula Erickson, a spokeswoman for Beam Inc., said in a statement to The State Journal that it’s company policy not to comment on active litigation, but they’re “confident in (their) position and that (their) case will prevail.”
Representatives for Buffalo Trace could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman said last week they typically don’t comment on pending litigation.
The suit says whiskey fungus 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 an accumulation of the whiskey fungus, which creates black, soot-like marks on homes and vehicles, the suit says.
At the meeting, Mike Sparks, who lives in The Maples subdivision near the Jim Beam plant, showed McMurry photographs of his damaged vehicle.
“There’s nothing you can do for the car,” Sparks said after the meeting, as he held pictures showing paint peeling off his Nissan. “I don’t dare wash it anymore… we took it to the carwash before and more (paint) came off.”
The suit was filed on behalf of Michael Mills, of 108 Forest Ridge Drive, Angela Conway, of 414 Noel Ave., and Kayleigh Count, of 112 Oaklawn Drive, who are seeking unspecified damages to property.
Mills, who was at the meeting, says he’s tried power washing, a cleaning service and a number of chemicals, including bleach, to try and get the black marks off his siding and gutters at his home in The Maples, but nothing removes it permanently, he says.
He also used to deal with the whiskey fungus at work as a biologist for the state Division of Water across from Buffalo Trace at the Ash Building.
“The white vehicles that sat out there, they would get all black, and they would have to scrub those vehicles to get all that stuff off,” Mills said. “And of course, you know who pays for that, don’t you? That’s the taxpayers … and we’d have to do those vehicles every so often.”
The distilleries are being sued on five counts, including negligence, nuisance and liability. McMurry is also seeking an injunction against them not to stop making liquor, but to stop releasing ethanol in the process, he said.
“When you’re off-gassing ethanol and it has value, it makes sense to re-evaluate your processes,” McMurry said.
“This is not an attack on the product … but it just seems to me that socially responsible citizens – corporate or otherwise – would recognize that there comes a point when you’ve got to think about your neighbor, and I don’t think the utility of the whiskey industry outweighs the rights of folks living in the community to live the way they want to live and not carry on this added burden of maintenance.
“Who knows at the end of the day how it will be resolved? But I do think that the technology is certainly available.”
Sparks said he always assumed the marks on his property were from the distillery, but had never heard of whiskey fungus until McMurry’s lawsuit a few weeks ago against three distilleries in Louisville on behalf of a group of concerned residents there.
McMurry says more research has led to an added focus on whiskey fungus. He said suits filed in the past in Indiana and in Bardstown regarding ethanol emissions failed to achieve “significant” results because up until about a year ago, when a group of Canadian mycologists began researching the stuff, whiskey fungus wasn’t a heavily researched topic.
McMurry is using those Canadian mycologists to test Frankfort homes and property for the presence of whiskey fungus.
While he said he’s undecided on whether he’ll join in on the local suit, Sparks said he’s sure of one thing – the distilleries need to stop releasing ethanol. Otherwise, his problem will never go away, he said.
“Now that we know what it is, we want them to stop,” Sparks said. “I can only speak for me, but I don’t think anybody in this room (at Wednesday’s meeting) is after a bunch of money from these people. We don’t want them shut down, just stop it.”