Homeowners urged to join ‘whisky fungus’ battle

Diageo's Leven site
Diageo's Leven site

HOMEOWNERS living within a mile of the Diageo warehousing site in Leven are to be invited to join a multi-million pound action against the drinks firm.

Lawyers behind the moves are planning to hold an invitation-only meeting in Leven in late October to discuss ‘whisky fungus’, which they claim can blight properties near to where whisky is stored for fermentation.

A similar meeting recently in Bonnybridge, near Falkirk, attracted 300 people, 47 of whom have signed up for a ‘class action’ against Diageo.

American lawer Bill McMurry, who is already battling bourbon distillers in Kentucky, wants to sue for compensation for damage to property caused by the spread of the harmless but unsightly black fungus, which can cover the outside of houses as well as gutters, decking, paving and fences.

He said they were pursuing a property damage claim, estimating potential payouts of between £500 and £1000 for each case.

He also wants to force distillers to fit equipment that will capture the ethanol and convert it into CO2.

Mr McMurray is working with Edinburgh-based lawyers Balfour & Manson.

He insists there is scientific evidence that shows property has been damaged as a result of ethanol being released into the atmosphere from warehouses during the whisky fermentation process, an evaporation that the industry poetically calls the “angels’ share”.

“In an area of around a mile radius, we see varying degrees of whisky fungus, depending on wind and moisture content,” Mr McMurray said. “Lots of people have questions and my purpose is to answer them and explain our work in the States.”

He estimated approximately 2000 tonnes of ethanol would be put into the atmosphere from a warehousing facility such as Diageo’s in Leven.

The legal team says a number of other communities are affected by the mould, including Tullibody, Kilmarnock and Shieldhall.

A Diageo spokesperson said: “As an industry committed to the highest standards of environmental responsibility, there is continual research into our processes.

“This research has found a complex range of naturally occurring microflora at warehouse sites and that the same microflora is present widely across the environment in the UK.

“No direct association between ethanol and microflora was found.

“Instead, the microflora appears to grow wherever the prevailing environmental conditions (such as light, moisture, temperature, nutrients) support that growth.

“If there is a change to the scientific evidence, we can assure you the industry would consider what the most appropriate, proportionate and effective way forward might be.”

The industry body Scotch Whisky Association maintains it was too simplistic to say it was one particular thing that caused the fungal growth and then make a link to the whisky industry.

It argued a range of factors was involved and, as a result, cases could be found across the UK that were not located beside warehousing sites.