LINCOLN COUNTY, Tenn. (WHNT/NEXSTAR) – Many residents of a neighborhood in Lincoln County, Tennessee, are fed up with a “whiskey fungus” that’s covering their property — and they’re blaming the nearby Jack Daniels storage facilities. The black fungus, they say, is being fed by ethanol vapors emanating from barrel houses owned by the Brown-Forman Corporation, where Jack Daniels whiskey is aged and stored.
“The black fungus will cover an entire shrub and just completely strangle the bush,” said Patrick Long, whose home in Mulberry, Tennessee, is right next to the Jack Daniels barrel house. “The evaporation of the ethanol that’s inside of those barrel houses with all of that alcohol turns into a black fungus and that black fungus attaches to anything that doesn’t move,” Long told Nexstar’s WHNT last year, adding that he’s spent thousands to try and clean the fungus from his property.
Long, together with his wife Christi Long, filed a lawsuit against Lincoln County earlier this year, alleging that officials approved plans for Brown-Forman to build additional barrel houses in the area despite the company not providing the proper permits. “We would end up with 20 barrel houses in Lincoln County in about a half a mile radius,” Long claimed. “They did not go through the building and planning cycle and they never submitted to a site plan, and they never provided the building plans.” Just this week, a Lincoln County judge ordered construction on new barrel houses to be stopped.
Putting a halt to construction, however, addresses just one of the neighborhood’s concerns. At a meeting with county commissioners and Brown-Forman representatives in December, homeowners complained that the fungus from its six existing barrel houses is constantly covering their homes and yards. “When I moved here 30 years ago, I washed my house once a year,” resident Gary Willer said at the meeting. “Now I wash my house four to five times a year. I washed it two months ago, and it needs it again. I can’t live like this anymore.”
A lawyer for the Longs said this week he also plans to ask a judge to prevent Brown-Forman from using several existing barrel houses, pending the lawsuit. Brown-Forman, meanwhile, had previously contended that ethanol vapors emitted from its barrel houses were within legal limits. Executives also claimed the vapor doesn’t cause physical harm. “They are well below the OSHA permissible exposure limits and when we monitor air quality exterior, we’re detecting no ethanol vapors,” said Melvin Keebler, the company’s vice president.
It’s well documented that certain alcohol-feeding fungi have been known to grow near distilleries, creating objectionable odors and what looks to be a soot-like goop on homes, cars and other nearby structures. Residents living near whiskey distilleries around Louisville, Kentucky, have complained of the same problem, though the area’s Air Pollution Control District found the fungus to largely cause only cosmetic damage.
A representative for Brown-Forman, in an emailed statement shared with Nexstar, said the fungus is a “naturally occurring microflora has been around as long as whiskey itself.” “It is found throughout the environment, near distilleries and in areas completely unrelated to aged whiskey production. This slow-growing microflora has various food sources, including alcohol vapor,” the representative wrote. “While some may not like the way it looks, based on the information available, we believe it is not harmful to individuals. We are committed to protecting the environment and the safety and health of our employees and neighbors.”
The company’s representative did not specifically address the Longs’ lawsuit, or the judge’s subsequent order to halt construction on new barrel houses. Brown-Forman did, however, acknowledge the decision in a statement to the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper on Wednesday. “We respect the chancellor’s ruling and look forward to working with Lincoln County on updated permits,” a spokesperson for the company said. “The Jack Daniel Distillery will continue to comply with regulations and industry standards regarding the design, construction, and permitting of our barrelhouses in Lincoln Co.”
Brown-Forman executives also previously came out against constructing some type of filtration system to cut down on the amount of ethanol released by the barrel houses, despite previous pleas from Long. Donna Willis, a company executive with Jack Daniel’s, had made claims that such a filtration system would compromise the taste of the product, The New York Times reported.
In the meantime, the Longs, along with other residents of their neighborhood, will likely keep seeing “whiskey fungus” on their homes, plants and trees. They’ll also be crossing their fingers that Brown-Forman isn’t permitted to move forward with plans to re-zone a nearby area to build even more barrel houses. “They will begin to turn the rest of Lincoln County into the same black fungus that we are currently dealing with today,” Long said.