Health & Medicine

Sierra Club's Ale-8 toast irks company

What is the connection between Ale-8-One and a coal-fired power plant?

Environmentalists plan to give away free Ale-8s in downtown Lexington Tuesday evening so people "dressed in their business best" can drink a toast of protest to plans to store coal ash upriver from the Winchester bottler's source of water.

The event is part of a National Day of Action that the Sierra Club has organized in various cities across the country. The Ale-8 event even has a Facebook page; several hundred friends have been invited.

But an Ale-8 representative, who learned about the event from a Herald-Leader reporter Monday, was not pleased.

"Ale-8-One in no way wants to be associated with this event," DeAnne Elmore, the company's marketing and public relations director, wrote in an e-mail to Lauren McGrath, the Lexington coordinator for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign.

"Our customers are very loyal and passionate about Ale-8-One, and the bottling company and its owners in no way want the public to perceive the possibility of contamination of our product even in a slogan," Elmore wrote.

McGrath said the Sierra Club had sent an e-mail about its plans to the company on Sept. 10, but it was one of hundreds seeking endorsements, and it went unanswered.

"The Sierra Club should have never assumed endorsement without direct communication" from the company, Elmore wrote.

In an interview, Elmore also said that McGrath was mistaken when she told a reporter that Ale-8 has its own withdrawal pipe in the Kentucky River.

The company gets treated water from Winchester Municipal Utilities, then runs it through its own reverse-osmosis filtering system, Elmore said.

After talking with Elmore and reading her e-mail, McGrath said the event will go on, with Ale-8-One, but the soft drink's link to the issue will be minimized.

"We're going to be changing it to 'come dressed in your business best to toast clean water,'" she said. "We certainly don't want to suggest that Ale-8 is contaminated."

At issue is a coal-fired plant that East Kentucky Power Cooperative wants to build at Trapp, which is upriver from Winchester's intake pipe on the Kentucky River.

Coal ash contains heavy metals and other contaminants that have become more concentrated as more of them are removed from emissions given off when coal is burned. It has become a growing concern since a large coal ash pond broke in Tennessee late last year.

Unlike its plant a few miles away at Ford, the plant at Trapp would produce dry coal ash, East Kentucky Power spokesman Nick Comer said.

Some ash would be put in low-lying areas, including some wetlands, that would be lined with clay, Comer said. Some would go into a clay-lined landfill. To mitigate the wetland loss, East Kentucky Power plans to create more wetlands and pay into a fund that helps restore streams and wetlands, Comer said.

McGrath said the ash would sit "right beside the river," but Comer said it was a mile and a half away.

The gathering and toast is directed toward the state Division of Water, which the Sierra Club says "is known for rubber-stamping permits that damage our water and health."