Alcohol from burned Jim Beam warehouse floods river, kills fish

Cheryl Sanders
July 10, 2019

Jim Mura, a spokesman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet said they let the bourbon barrels burn off until Saturday morning to prevent the water runoff from impacting local waterways.

The communication director for the Energy and Environment Cabinet says at some points where the plume has been the worst, oxygen levels have been at zero and it's killing fish.

But over the weekend, officials said runoff from firefighting efforts had led to an alcohol plume in one river.

The fish are basically suffocating because there's not enough oxygen in the water, said Margaret Carreiro, a Kentucky-based retired biology professor.

According to Mura, when alcohol from a warehouse accident flows into a creek or river, bacteria in the water eat the sugars in the alcohol and multiply rapidly, which robs the water of its oxygen content and causes fish to suffocate.

Until the pollution dilutes in the Ohio River, the state is warning residents to avoid eating contaminated fish, no matter how tempting the thought of those bourbon-marinated fish may be.

Footage from CNN affiliate WKYT shows dead fish floating downstream as the environmental fallout from the fire continues to affect Kentucky.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is now carrying out assessments.

Beam Suntory, Jim Beam's parent company, told ABC News that it sent environmental cleanup crews and consultants to the area after the blaze. Once it was safe to do so, aerators were placed in the creek on Wednesday, and a barge was deployed in the Kentucky River to operate aerators late Thursday. These teams will continue assessments and work to mitigation efforts of the spill until water quality returns to normal conditions in the river. We have been informed that the situation is now sufficiently under control that the State of Kentucky is preparing to end emergency response activities and transition to longer-term, more routine monitoring. "The dead fish are now in Owen and Carroll counties, mainly between lock and dam No. 2 and No. 3, which are about 30 miles down river from Frankfort".

Editor's note: This story was updated to include a statement provided by Beam Suntory.

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