Tuesday, March 26, 2024

State Agencies Have Clear Authority To Act On WhistlePig Whiskey Fungus Pollution


In March, Protect the Adirondacks called upon the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to launch enforcement investigations into an invasive “whiskey fungus” in the Mineville area in the Town of Moriah, Essex County. The Adirondack Explorer reported that DEC has demanded that WhistlePig Whiskey submit plans for mitigating “the effects of its operations on neighboring properties” by April 20th. WhistlePig Whiskey owns and operates a warehouse facility in Mineville that is the apparent source of vapors that create what’s come to be known as the whiskey fungus that has coated homes in the area with a slimy black mold-like fungus.

The problem appears to stem from the operations of a whiskey storage warehouse and bottling facility in Mineville. In 2016, WhistlePig Whiskey, a Vermont company, set up shop on land it purchased from the Essex County Industrial Development Agency. The company distills its whiskey in Shoreham, Vermont, and has upscale “tasting rooms” in Stowe and Quechee. WhistlePig built, and now operates, seven 14,000-square-foot warehouses and one 14,000-square-foot bottling plant. WhistlePig apparently has stated it could not find affordable land in Vermont for its warehouses, so it came to Moriah. According to local residents, WhistlePig has been unresponsive to their concerns about its offsite pollution.

The warehouses are used to store and age the company’s whiskey products, which emit vapors containing a fungus commonly referred to as “whiskey fungus,” “warehouse staining fungus,” and “distillery fungus.” Its scientific name is Baudonia compniacensis. The vapors form as the whiskey ages. When the vapor escapes to the outdoors, it coats surfaces it contacts with a black mold, which is currently negatively affecting homes in Mineville.

WhistlePig’s warehouses are coated with the fungus and houses in the area are turned gray as siding, roofs, gutters, shingles, and shutters are contaminated and covered with a black mold-like fungus. Stop signs in the area show the fungus and property owners up to a mile away from the warehouses report being infested with the fungus. The local Hudson Headwaters Health Clinic shows the fungus on its facility.

Both the APA and DEC have clear authority to act to stop this company from negatively impacting neighbors and the Mineville community. The DEC air regulations state:

No person shall cause or allow emissions of air contaminants to the outdoor atmosphere of such quantity, characteristic or duration which are injurious to human, plant or animal life or to property, or which unreasonably interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property. Notwithstanding the existence of specific air quality standards or emission limits, this prohibition applies, but is not limited to, any particulate, fume, gas, mist, odor, smoke, vapor, pollen, toxic or deleterious emission, either alone or in combination with others. (6 NYCRR § 211.1)

WhistlePig appears to be in violation of this DEC air regulation. A home covered with this fungus is clearly an unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of one’s property. DEC has reportedly taken samples of the mold on contaminated residences and confirmed the presence of whiskey fungus, but has taken no action to date against WhistlePig. It remains to be how WhistlePig attempts to comply with the DEC’s demands by April 20.

 

For its part, APA needs to act to uphold a clear requirement in the permit that APA issued to WhistlePig that there would be no offsite emissions from the operations. Under the “Project Impacts” part of this permit, it states:

The commercial use authorized herein will primarily involve storage. Approximately one delivery per day will occur between normal daytime business hours. Whiskey will be delivered by tanker truck to Warehouse 1, and barrels will be filled there and then transported by forklifts to the other storage warehouses. As described by the permittee, the proposed operations, including future Phase 3 and 4 activities (Bottling and Distillation), will create no off-site noise, fumes, smoke, or emissions. (APA Permit P2016-226)

The fungus covering nearby residences is clearly an “offsite … emission” that the permit states as a condition is not allowed. WhistlePig’s ongoing release of whiskey fungus vapors from its storehouses and the resulting presence of whiskey fungus on nearby homes appears to constitute “off-site . . . fumes . . . or emissions” in violation of its APA permit. APA needs to act to bring this facility into compliance with its permit.

It is particularly important that APA join with the DEC and acts promptly, because WhistlePig’s emissions are likely to increase as a result of the company’s plan to significantly expand its operations by constructing additional warehouses to store and age its product.

It is high time for the DEC to bring WhistlePig into compliance with the state’s air quality regulations and it’s time for the APA to get in the game and enforce a clear violation of its permit.

Photos provided by the author.

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He was the co-founder of the Adirondack Lake Assessment Program (ALAP) in 1998, which has collected long-term water quality data on more than 75 Adirondack lakes and ponds. He has testified before the State Legislature, successfully advocated to pass legislation and budget items, authored numerous articles, op-eds, and reports such as "20% in 2023: An Assessment of the New York State 30 by 30 Act" (2023), "The Adirondack Park and Rural America: Economic and Population Trends 1970-2010" (2019), "The Myth of Quiet, Motor-free Waters in the Adirondack Park" (2013), and "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage on the Adirondack Forest Preserve" (2003) and "Growth in the Adirondack Park: Analysis of Rates and Patterns of Development" (2001). He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife, has two grown children out in the world, and enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Threads.




6 Responses

  1. Melissa Heshmat says:

    As much as I like whiskey, I am highly allergic to mold, mildew, and fungus, among other things. Please get this under control for all our sakes!

  2. Jeff says:

    The more you can stick others with the costs of your activities, the more profit you can keep for youself. That’s why capitalism needs regulation. If the DEC and the APA don’t do their jobs, then the residents of Moriah and the ecosystem around it will continue to suffer so that WhistlePig can profit.

  3. I certainly can empathize with the anger & frustration residents & property owners in the affected area must be experiencing from the unmitigated onslaught of this fungus. One thought comes to mind as I ponder how, in the absence of duly authorized government agency intervention, I might confront such a dilemma. As a former long time union representative, I can attest to the fact that organized product boycotts can be a VERY effective tool in making a collective public voice heard and instigating corrective action by profit motivated offenders.

    • Richard Greguski says:

      I agree & just commented the same thing. It’s astonishing that a company can so adversely affect it’s neighbors & get away with it.

  4. Richard Greguski says:

    It looks clear that the APA is able to mitigate this problem. For Whistle Pig to not address this is being a bad neighbor. The prospect of delay, delay, and delay can only make matters worse. Perhaps a “Whistle Pig” boycott would work…?

  5. Elizabeth Ann Graff says:

    The emissions from the warehouses are ethanol. There are no fungus spores coming from them. The fungus uses the ethanol to germinate and grow. Dr. James Scott identified this fungus and proved it was caused by the distilled spirits industry in 2007.

    Join us in our fight against barrelhouse emissions and the fungus

    https://m.facebook.com/groups/206263785913581/?ref=share&mibextid=NSMWBT

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