Jack Daniel's barrel houses are causing an out-of-control black 'whiskey fungus' in a Tennessee community, enraged residents say
Residents of Lincoln County are fed up with the black fungus covering their homes and cars.
The stubborn "whiskey fungus" feeds on ethanol vapor from the Jack Daniel's barrel houses.
Locals are demanding an air-filtration system and an environmental-impact study.
The sooty black mold smothers homes, porches, and cars, locals say. It obscures street signs and coats the leaves and bark of trees. It cements itself to any stationary object, and it makes residents question the safety of the air they breathe.
Locals in Lincoln County, Tennessee, say an out-of-control black "whiskey fungus" known as Baudoinia compniacensis, fueled by ethanol vapor from the Jack Daniel's facilities, has been a menace since the famous liquor company started building six barrel houses in 2018 and launched plans to build 14 more. Now infuriated residents are demanding the company and the county answer for the damage and sinking property values and prove the ethanol-filled air is safe to breathe.
Patrick Long, who lives adjacent to the Jack Daniel's barrel houses, and whose wife, Christi, filed a lawsuit against Lincoln County, told Insider the community had two main demands: an air-filtration system that could block the ethanol emissions and stunt the growth of the fungus, and an environmental-impact study evaluating the amount of ethanol emanating from the barrel houses and any health risks it poses.
"I'm extremely concerned. My wife has breathing problems. One of the neighbors got cancer," Long said. "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."
Long said the existence of the six barrel houses means he has to spend roughly $10,000 a year power-washing his house with a potent mixture of water and Clorox. He also said local officials had given up trying to clean the fungus-covered street signs and simply replace them when they become too blackened to be legible.
"If you have any decent nails on you and you rode it down the side of a tree or a property within a quarter of a mile to a half-mile of these barrel houses, your entire finger will be covered in black fungus," Long said. "You can't see the tree limbs anymore. Our house, we have to have it pressure-washed four times a year now."
He said he'd alerted federal Environmental Protection Agency officials. They declined Insider's request for comment, citing "potential or ongoing enforcement activities or investigations."
Christi Long's recent lawsuit against Lincoln County's Board of Planning and Zoning demands the county issue a stop-work order to halt construction at Jack Daniel's, alleging the company illegally built the facilities and lacks proper site-plan approval and building permits.
Lincoln County did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment. But at a public hearing late last year, covered by The Moore County News, a Jack Daniel's official, Melvin Keebler, expressed sympathy to one resident who said she had stage-four lung cancer and requested an air-filtration system. Keebler said that the company already monitored its air quality and that existing air-filtration technology isn't meant for whiskey and bourbon facilities.
A Jack Daniel's spokesperson told Insider that the company could not comment on pending litigation but that Jack Daniel's "complies with all local, state, and federal regulations regarding the design, construction, and permitting of our barrel houses," adding, "We are dedicated to protecting the environment and the safety and health of our employees and neighbors."
The 'angel's share' of the whiskey feeds the fungus
The black gunk spreading roughly a mile from the Jack Daniel's barrel houses is known as Baudoinia compniacensis, a naturally occurring fungus that grows on outdoor surfaces exposed to ethanol vapor. Barrel houses like the Jack Daniel's facilities can house tens of thousands of barrels of maturing whiskey, and a percentage of that alcohol evaporates through the pores of the wooden barrels and into the air — whiskey makers call it the "angel's share" of the product.
Researchers identified the fungus in 2007 and found the "angel's share" of distilled spirits was responsible for it.
Kentucky homeowners filed class-action lawsuits against several Louisville distilleries in 2012, though they were eventually dismissed. And residents of Ontario, Canada, have filed a class-action lawsuit against owners of the Hiram Walker distillery in Lakeshore.
Long said that when he and his wife first moved into their property in Lynchburg in 2020, they were aware of the fungus and considered it minimal. At the time, Jack Daniel's had two barrel houses in the area; now the company has six and is on track for 20.
Jason Holleman, an attorney who's representing the Longs, told Insider a judge is expected to make a decision within days on whether to force the county to issue a stop-work order for the new facilities.
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