News Feature | February 9, 2018

Whiskey Plants Charged With Polluting Tennessee's Waterways

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Tennessee’s waterways face a surprising threat: Jack Daniels.

“As the whiskey industry continues to grow, Tennessee’s two largest distilleries struggled to comply with water quality regulations last year,” USA Today reported.

“Jack Daniel's and George Dickel exceeded their limits for chlorine and other pollutants that can harm aquatic wildlife. After investigating the violations, the distilleries traced the problems to broken or inadequate machinery and faulty testing. In the case of George Dickel, false positives for chlorine exceedances were traced to manganese, which can lead to high chlorine readings, in the company's source water. State officials say the companies have fixed the problems and are now back in compliance,” the report continued.

Jack Daniels is applying for a new permit for its distillery, the report said. Consumer demand for the product is surging, and its plant in Louisville, KY, is undergoing a major renovation. Wastewater from the plant is expected to increase.

Jack Daniel’s general manager Larry Combs said the company’s pollution issues are relatively minor.

“Water is a very important resource to us, and we do beyond what’s required of us with our permits,” he said, per the report.

Pollution from whiskey operations contains a range of potential contaminants, including “ethanol, cleaning agents, leftover organic matter from the fermented grains and corn, and solids such as charcoal from filtering operations,” the report said. “The organic material and ethanol, when consumed by microorganisms, can deprive lakes and streams of oxygen. Also, warm water from cooling operations can upend fragile ecosystems.”

Breweries face a similar dilemma: They are major water users, and they also incur major wastewater costs. Some companies are trying to streamline the process by cutting out the middleman and treating their own wastewater.

Deschutes Brewery in Bend, OR, is trying that approach. The company says it prides itself for using environmentally-friendly practices, including restoring “one billion gallons of water into the Deschutes River every year to offset what we use to brew our ... tasty beer.”

Still, cost advantages really prompted the brewery to consider treating its own waste.

“Until now, the brewery has relied on a few methods to dispose of the approximately 100,000 gallons of wastewater the brewing process involves on a daily basis, including paying for the municipal facility to treat the water and shipping so-called high strength wastewater (that which includes yeast or even rejected beer) to farmers who use the nutrient-rich liquid to aid their crop growth,” Food & Wine reported.