Class action lawsuit claims whiskey fungus hurting homes and cars

Published: May. 31, 2012 at 2:16 AM EDT|Updated: May. 31, 2012 at 4:23 AM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Three area whiskey makers have become defendants in a class action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Louisville on Wednesday.

It all began when some Louisville neighbors started complaining about a black substance in the air that was staining their property.

It's a black, soot-like growth clinging to Joseph Billy's Louisville home and his car, and it's fallen on property all around his neighborhood off 7th Street.

Billy says after spending thousands of dollars on a renovation to his home, he realized the black fungus wasn't going away. So, he called the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control.  WAVE 3 News found out the agency had 57 complaints about falling black stuff since last year.

"We haven't really known until the last couple of years what causes this black condition," said William F. McMurry, an attorney representing the plaintiff's in the lawsuit.

McMurry says he knows what it is now, a whiskey fungus.

"This is not something you can clean or sandblast off, " McMurry said, "Even if you could, you would be doing it once or twice a week."

They claim, three area distillers, Brown-Forman Corporation, Heaven Hill Distilleries and Diageo America's Supply are to blame. The lawyer cites ethanol emissions that come from making the whiskey.

"We've confirmed that there was a meeting allegedly between the Louisville Mayor and the various whiskey makers on Tuesday," McMurry said.

A spokesman says Mayor Greg Fischer did meet with company representatives to let them know about the neighbors complaints.

The companies contend they've done nothing wrong.

There are no health risks from whiskey fungus, but neighbors say what it's doing to their property values is making them sick.

Billy told WAVE 3 News, "The only reason I found out (about it) is because I was tired of power washing my house."

Greg Murray, the owner of a Garland Avenue rental house is a second plaintiff.  His neighbor Monica Stroud told us, she may become one.

"I think I first started noticing it," Stroud said of the fungus, "maybe two years after I had the home built." Stroud says she complained about the black fungus but, never got anywhere with the distillery. "I just gave up and I said OK, maybe it's my imagination and it's not coming from there but, I always thought it was."

The lawsuit seeks damages and changes in the distillers ventilation systems.

In a joint statement, the distillers said in part, they're sympathetic to the neighbors but, say it's a "naturally occurring common mold that's widely found in the environment, including areas unrelated to the production of whiskey. "

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