Of 72 tequila distilleries inspected in the last six months, 65 failed to follow state and federal environmental norms in treating water contaminated by the process and the unused end product of the cooked agave piñas.
Although the largest tequila producers — accounting for some 80 percent of production — have invested millions of dollars in treatment facilities, many of the 130 smaller tequileras in the state are contaminating heavily in the Rio Zula and Rio Santiago watersheds.
One of the most notable culprits is the maker of the highly popular Tequila Patron brand (sold only in the U.S.), a distillery that was closed by authorities after heavy rainfalls caused its holding tanks to overflow into watersheds.
For each liter of tequila, ten liters of vinaza (a highly acidic residual fluid with a heavy organic component) are created. Some 300 million liters of tequila will be produced this year.
Article update: - 9/27/2008 - Letter to the Editor (added by MrAgave)
I read over the weekend your report "Tequila producers contaminate watersheds," and wanted to clear up an inaccuracy in the article. Tequila Patron is firmly committed to limiting the environmental aspect of production, and we're proud to say we're at the forefront of the industry on this important issue, investing millions of dollars in equipment and processes to ensure that waste products are properly treated. To that end, one such measure we're recently implemented is a reverse osmosis system to purify our water. While this system was being installed and tested, we did slow production to allow for this.
At no time has the Patron distillery been closed by the authorities. Like all distilleries in the area, this is an issue we take very seriously.
Ed Brown, president and CEO, the Patron Spirits Company, Southlake, Texas