For years, Kenyon Industries operated what it called 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 indicated the mill had 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.

The 35-mile-long Pawcatuck River is part of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed and 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. Many of the pollutants discharged by Kenyon are known to cause acute harm to aquatic life, contributing to this designation.

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 on behalf of Environment Rhode Island and its members who swim, fish, hike, and forage along the river.

Working with technical experts and the company, NELC developed a comprehensive settlement plan that will protect the Pawcatuck River from future pollution. The final settlement requires Kenyon to conduct diligent wastewater monitoring and establishes a three phase compliance plan that ensures necessary that upgrades to Kenyon’s wastewater treatment system will be made. It includes $50,000 in civil penalties, $40,000 of which will be directed to the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council for projects directly benefiting the Pawcatuck River. Additionally, the settlement imposes stipulated penalties if Kenyon violates its permit going forward.