Whisky giant sued over black fungus

Example of black fungus
Example of black fungus

Homeowners living near Banbeath bottling plant could be in line for a share of a multi-million pound settlement against whisky giant Diageo.

A test case has been lodged in Edinburgh Court of Session which blames the firm for smothering houses, cars and garden plants in unsightly black fungus, a natural byproduct of the whisky fermentation process.

City law firm Balfour +Manson - which represents hundreds of claimants across Scotland, including an undisclosed number in Leven - maintains the presence of ‘Baudoinia compniacensis’ is causing residents stress and anxiety.

However, while research has established the fungus is found near Diageo’s facilities in Levenmouth, Diageo denies the link and maintains the black mould grows naturally in a damp climate.

A spokesman said: “At Diageo we are committed to maintaining the highest level of environmental standards and supporting the communities in which we operate, and we are taking this matter very seriously.

“While we are sympathetic to the concerns of the plaintiffs, the blackening of some buildings and structures is due to naturally occurring mould found widely throughout the environment, including in areas unrelated to the production of whisky.

“We do not believe that we have caused any harm to the plaintiffs or their property, and we are contesting these claims.”

Professor James Somerville of Glasgow Caledonian University, estimates tens of thousands of Scottish homes are affected by the fungus, although the full impact on health and property values has not been fully established.

The loss of alcohol from Scotch casks is a natural process which accounts for the disappearance of up to 20 per cent of the barrel’s volume.

This loss is referred to as the ‘angels’ share’.

In 2012, US lawyer Bill McMurray, who was acting in conjunction with the Edinburgh law firm, said he was “workling directly with residents of Leven” who had responded to an initial letter that year.

Mr McMurray was already involved in action against bourbon distillers in Kentucky, where homeowners claim the fungus has caused property values to drop by a third.

In 2012, McMurray estimated approximately 2000 tonnes of ethanol would be put into the atmosphere from a warehousing facility such as Diageo’s in Leven and believed claimants could receive payouts of between £500-£1000.

The biggest production facilities in Scotland are operated by Diageo and Chivas Brothers.

The majority of claimants live in Bonnybridge, but areas affected include Menstrie, Tullibody, Kilmarnock and Sheildhall.

Black fungus was first investigated in 1872 in Gognac, the French town famous for its brandy.