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Barton beer well collapse causes injuries, mash spill

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By Randy Patrick

The collapse of a beer well at Barton 1792 Distillery just before noon Tuesday injured two people and caused a spill of 120,000 gallons of whiskey mash.

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John Mura, a spokesman for the state Energy and Environment Cabinet, said 10,000 gallons of the spill got into a storm drain and entered a tributary of the Beech Fork River, where a dam was built to try to prevent it from flowing into the river.

“Most of the spill was contained. An unknown amount did get by the dam and entered the Beech Fork,” Mura said.

Nelson County E-911 Dispatch received a call at 11:51 a.m. that an ambulance was needed because a person was injured at the distillery on New Haven Road. Nelson County EMS and Bardstown Fire both responded to the medical call, and two people were transported by ambulance to Flaget Memorial Hospital, according to Nelson County EMS Director Joe Prewitt.

Amy Preske, a spokesperson for Sazerac, Barton’s parent company, said one was a visitor who was treated and released for minor injuries, and the other was a tour guide who sought medical attention “as a precautionary measure” and was also treated and released.

Preske released a short statement  Tuesday that said a beer well that held fermented mash before it is distilled “failed,” and the company didn’t know why, but it was “working to secure the area.”

Mura said a mash tank collapsed, which fell because one of its legs snapped, and it punctured three other tanks. Two held 50,000 gallons each, one held 6,000 and one held 5,000.

The liquid, which is classified by firefighters as a hazardous material, flowed into a nearby holding basin, but the basin overflowed, and some of the mash made its way into a sewer drain and on to the stream.

Workers constructed berms to halt the flow of the mash.

Crews from an environmental contractor and Sazerac were still working Wednesday to clean up the spill and pump out the liquid. They and representatives of the state Department for Environmental Protection were on scene most of the day Tuesday and were still there Wednesday.

Local first responders cleared the scene just after 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Bardstown Asst. Fire Chief Todd Spalding said workers were draining the tanks.

He said the company was going to have a structural engineer come and assess the damage to the tanks.

Mura said samples had been turned over to a laboratory to be examined, and new samples would be collected every 24 hours.

Starting Wednesday, he said, the storm drain and tributary would be flushed with clean water.

“It appears to have been reported promptly,” Mura said.

The accident Tuesday was the second industrial mishap at Barton in nine months. Last summer, two halves of a rickhouse collapsed, the first on June 22 and the second on July 4, sending an estimated 18,000 gallons of spirits flowing to a tributary of the Beech Fork River, which resulted in a fish kill.

In that incident, Sazerac was issued a violation notice for not reporting it in a timely manner and for polluting the water. The company and the state are working on an agreed order to address that issue.

“This incident will likely be included in that agreed order,” which will lengthen the time it takes to issue the order, Mura said.