Kenyon Industries operates what it calls a “state of the art” textile manufacturing facility on the Pawcatuck River in southern Rhode Island. Yet its reports to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management indicate the mill has violated the Clean Water Act 1,784 times since 2017, routinely discharging wastewater with concentrations of copper, a toxic pollutant, more than 2.5 times its permitted limits. Such violations stretch back decades. The wastewater discharged by Kenyon into the Pawcatuck has also repeatedly been found to be acutely toxic to aquatic life, another violation of Kenyon’s permit.

The 35-mile-long Pawcatuck River is part of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed, which recently qualified as a National Wild & Scenic River, a prestigious recognition enjoyed by less than 1% of the nation’s waterways. However, the 2.16-mile portion of the Pawcatuck River immediately downstream from the Kenyon textile mill has been designated an “impaired” water body by the state of Rhode Island. This designation classifies the stretch of river as “not supporting” its use as a habitat for fish and wildlife because of elevated toxicity levels.

To help ensure the long-term health of the entire river, NELC filed a Clean Water Act citizen suit against Kenyon Industries in August 2022. Brought on behalf of Environment Rhode Island and its members who swim, fish, hike, and forage along the river, the lawsuit’s over-riding goal is to curb illegal discharges and bring Kenyon into sustained compliance.