Bourbon Distiller Agrees To Pay More Than $700,000 In Fines, Costs Following July Fire

Jim Beam Brands Company must pay $600,000 in fines and reimburse the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet $112,000 within 30 days as the result of a July bourbon warehouse fire that resulted in fish being killed along 62 miles of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers.

The distiller and the state agency released the details of the payments and required environmental cleanup and monitoring as part of a 17-page agreed order signed December 6 and filed December 9.

The agreement notes that a lightning strike caused the July 3 fire that destroyed the warehouse on McCracken Pike in Frankfort, Ky. When it collapsed, bourbon from 40,000 barrels spilled, although it was not clear how much burned in the fire and how much was released into nearby Glenn’s Creek and eventually the Kentucky and Ohio rivers. The agreement also spells out the possibility of further penalties if the spill is later determined to have caused further environmental problems, and requires the company to provide an alternative source of safe drinking water within 48 hours if ethanol contamination affects any well or spring that is a source of drinking water for people or livestock.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources reported that fish were killed along 62 miles of the rivers as a result of alcohol dissolving the oxygen the fish breathe, with most of the damage occurring in the creek and the Kentucky River. As the plume of alcohol moved into the larger Ohio River, the damage became less severe.

The agreed order lists five violations concerning water pollution from the fire. It notes Jim Beam Brands Company neither admitted to nor denied all of them “but has agreed to the entry of this Agreed Order to resolve the violations.”

Beam Suntory, the Chicago-based spirits company that owns the Jim Beam brand, released a statement after the disclosure of the agreement, accepting the requirements and expressing its commitment to remediating the damage.

“Throughout the process of extinguishing the fire, and managing and remediating impacts to the surrounding environment, we have worked closely and collaboratively with Franklin County Emergency Management, Woodford County EM, Owen and Carroll Counties, the State of Kentucky Energy & Environment Cabinet and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,” the statement reads. “While we were able to minimize impacts to the surrounding environment and wildlife—including by deploying aerators in nearby creeks and the Kentucky River, fire suppression and containment strategies to minimize runoff, and ongoing water sampling and water field screening—we recognize the regrettable and unavoidable impacts of the incident and have been committed to doing what we can to restore the environment. That includes making payments to the state to compensate for time spent, resources utilized and costs to supplement the local fish population. We are pleased that the spirit of cooperation we’ve pursued throughout has extended to an agreement on the payments the company will make. Amidst the challenge and heartbreak of the lightning strike, ensuing fire and resulting impacts, we will always remain grateful for many things: the fact that no one was hurt, the unsurpassed courage of the first responders, the inspiring support of the community and the natural beauty of Kentucky that we’re all committed to protecting.”

Moving forward, Jim Beam has submitted a site characterization and monitoring plan to the state that includes maps where the state is requiring the company to monitor sample locations for soil, sediment, groundwater and surface water and any laboratory results of that sampling. It must monitor affected areas where remediation takes place at least quarterly and submit the results to the state annually. The state is allowed to observe sample collection and may request its own samples for independent testing.
The company is also required to submit documentation showing proper disposal of all liquid and solid waste leftover from the fire and a corrective action plan that “shall demonstrate how it will be protective of human health, safety and the environment.” If any remedies require work on private property, Jim Beam must also obtain the consent of the property owners first.

Finally, the state is requiring the company to file a report showing all action taken to remedy any environmental problems. If the state does not agree with the actions Jim Beam takes, the company will be provided with two opportunities to correct any deficiencies before the state may deem Jim Beam in violation of the agreed order and seek legal action in Franklin Circuit Court.

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