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Diageo and Cruzan Rum face black mould lawsuit

Diageo and Cruzan Rum could be hit with a violation order over allegations their rum distilleries in the US Virgin Islands are causing black mould to grow on people’s homes, cars and boats.

Cruzan-Rum
Cruzan Rum could be hit with a violation order over allegations its distillery is causing a black fungus to grow on residents’ homes

The US Virgin Islands’ environmental agency is planning to file a violation order against Cruzan Rum and Diageo USVI – a subsidiary of Diageo PLC, which produces Captain Morgan – following complaints from residents of various communities on St Croix, as reported by Yahoo! Finance.

Jamal Nielsen, spokesman for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), said authorities are “in the process of crafting a violation order”, though it is not yet understood if the order will request corrective action.

Citizens if St Croix claim a “sooty-looking” fungus has been growing in their neighbourhoods, including on water cisterns and fruit trees, due to the ethanol from the nearby rum facilities.

Speaking to the news site, Andrea Daley, president of the Enfield Green Estates owners association, claimed the mould started to appear on outdoor surfaces when Diageo built a rum warehouse several years ago.

“It’s been tough,” she said. “We have a red and white boat that is parked up in our yard, but now it’s black.

“We had a soursop tree but the leaves got so covered in black fungus that we had to cut it down.”

Daley argues the mould has quadrupled home maintenance costs, but stressed residents do not want the rum companies to relocate as they employ approximately 125 people on St Croix.

Class action lawsuit

Residents believe the mould is “Baudoinia” and are pursuing a class action lawsuit requiring both companies to install technology to capture ethanol emissions and pay damages to homeowners.

Kentucky-based lawyer William McMurry is representing the St Croix citizens and said he is expecting a judge to rule in due course on an attempt by the rum firms to have the action dismissed.

The distilleries sent a joint letter to acting DPNR commissioner Dawn Henry stating Diageo USVI and Cruzan were committed to working with the authorities, but technology designed to capture ethanol is untested and expensive and would “threaten the viability of ageing rum on St Croix”.

The Spirits Business has approached both Beam Suntory, owner of Cruzan Rum, and Diageo for comments on the matter, but neither party has yet responded.

There have also been cases of black mould relating Scotch whisky in recent years, and last September legal action against Diageo progressed in regards to a black whisky fungus that locals argued had covered their houses and cars.

In May 2014, locals objected to plans by Pernod Ricard to expand its whisky warehouses in Beith, again due to a black fungus.

Meanwhile, back in 2012 class action lawsuits were filed against several Kentucky distilleries – including Diageo Americas Supply, Brown-Forman and Heaven Hill – for alleged damage caused by whisky fungus.

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