What Happens To Wildlife When Bourbon Leaves The Barrel?

This is what it looks like when 18,000 barrels of booze comes crashing down…

Two major fish kills have occurred in the Central Kentucky portion of the Kentucky River over the past 20 years, both from bourbon spills. But fish are not the only animals of concern. Kentucky’s streams and rivers are home to many freshwater mussels, aquatic insects and amphibians that all have differing tolerances for water pollution.

In the case of Glenn’s Creek, the bourbon entering the river introduced a huge influx of organic material to the water. The sugars in the alcohol caused an increase in microbial metabolism and reproduction, depleting the dissolved oxygen in the water and leading to the fish kill. Aquatic animals like fish, invertebrates and microbes require adequate oxygen levels in the water to survive. If they cannot flee from areas with low oxygen, they will suffocate as a result.

Bourbon spilled from the Jim Beam fire is making its way to the Ohio River
Bourbon mixes with water in the Kentucky River, Wednesday, July 3, 2019, following an overnight fire at a Jim Beam distillery in Woodford County,

In the hours and days that followed, as local, state and federal officials worked on the Kentucky River to contain the spill, they saw schools of fish swimming ahead of the alcohol plume, trying to find oxygenated water.

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