RESIDENTS of two more Scottish communities have been invited to join a multi-million pound action against drink firm Diageo.
Lawyers will send a “letter of claim” to the company after more than 300 people packed into Bonnybridge Primary School, near Falkirk, last week to discuss the “whisky fungus” they claim is blighting property.
Some 50 householders have already signed up for a “class action” against Diageo and lawyers expect that number to increase dramatically.
They are planning similar meetings in Tullibody, Clackmannanshire, and Leven, Fife, which also have Diageo plants.
Bill McMurry, an American lawyer involved in similar cases in Kentucky, came to Bonnybridge last week and said the case could cost the drinks industry in Scotland up to £500m.
Mr McMurry insists the claim is based on “rock-solid” scientific evidence that property has been damaged as a result of ethanol being released into the atmosphere from Diageo’s warehouses during the whisky fermentation process.
Mr McMurry, who is working with Edinburgh-based lawyers Balfour+Manson, said: “Samples of whisky fungus from Bonnybridge have been found to contain baudoinia – a fungus that germinates on ethanol – after being tested in Canada.”
Diageo denies the claims of a link between its warehouses and the blackening of homes.
Bonnybridge resident Tom Chalmers said: “This problem will not go away on its own, and it is good to know the strength of determination to get rid of it. It is on everything and can’t be washed off with soap and water. It is on cars, furniture, kids’ toys, everything.”
David Short, a partner at Balfour+Manson, said 47 residents had signed a contract to pursue legal action, while a further 350 of the documents had been taken away by those
attending the public meeting.
“We are now moving forward to look at other areas affected by this problem. In the immediate future, a letter of claim will be sent to Diageo.”
There is no provision for class action in Scotland – or for community cases, which can be brought forward in England and Wales.
Mr Short said the Courts Administration in Scotland would have to advise on how to proceed, but insisted the case would go ahead.
A Diageo spokesperson said: “As an industry committed to the highest standards of environmental responsibility, there is continual research into our processes.
“This research has found a complex range of naturally occurring microflora at warehouse sites and that the same microflora is present widely across the environment in the UK.
“No direct association between ethanol and microflora was found. Instead, the microflora appears to grow wherever the prevailing environmental conditions (such as light, moisture, temperature, nutrients) support that growth.
“If there is a change to the scientific evidence, we can assure you that the industry would consider what the most appropriate, proportionate and effective way forward might be.”