FRANKFORT — State officials have confirmed a fish kill in the Kentucky River after a fire at a Jim Beam warehouse in Woodford County earlier this week that contained 45,000 barrels of bourbon.
John Mura with the Energy and Environment Cabinet said on Friday that the fire is still smoldering, but emergency personnel have been able to contain the spill that resulted, stopping the flow into Glenn’s Greek, which feeds into the Kentucky River near the Woodford/Franklin County line, upstream from Frankfort. The amount of the fish kill has not yet been determined.
Aerators have been deployed in both Glenn’s Creek and the Kentucky River to support the regeneration of the affected water. The Cabinet is sampling the water daily, and Beam Suntory, Jim Beam’s parent company, has begun clearing debris to support the environmental cleanup.
The Cabinet, along with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, are urging caution regarding the consumption of distressed fish. The agencies recommend if you discover fish that appear to be unhealthy or dying, do not capture or use for food, and never consume fish that have already died.
Many people have compared this incident to the 2000 fire at the Wild Turkey Distillery in Anderson County, which resulted in a massive fish kill numbering the hundreds of thousands. Pernod-Ricard, who owned Wild Turkey at the time, paid $250,000 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, to help re-stock the river. The Whisky Reviewer has ranked that the fourth biggest modern whisky disaster in the world.
Another concern is for public water systems downstream, the largest of which is the Frankfort Plant Board, which serves 141,000 customers in Franklin, Woodford, Anderson, Shelby, Scott, Henry, and Spencer counties.
In a statement, the FPB sought to reassure consumers saying, “Some customers may temporarily detect a sweet or bourbon odor and taste in the water; however, it is safe to drink.”
They said they are continuing to monitor the situation “as public safety and public health remain the priority. A similar incident last occurred around 2000 when Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg experienced runoff into the river. Customers noticed a change in the smell and taste of the tap water for several days.”
Mura says an investigation by the Energy and Environment Cabinet along with Fish and Wildlife officials continues, and that Beam Suntory could be fined due to the fire and spill.
He adds, representatives from both state agencies, Jim Beam, their contractor are working to contain the spill and others have been meeting daily since the fire, to mitigate its effects.
The fire broke out Tuesday night and although fire investigators have not yet been able to determine the cause, due to it continuing to smolder, they have told media outlets that a lightning strike is a possibility.
The bourbon destroyed represents about one percent of their inventory, according to Beam Suntory. The company described it as “young bourbon” and their supply would not be interrupted.