Although the Saugus River marshes contained the largest shellfish beds north of Boston, their bounty had long been off limits for human consumption due to industrial and municipal pollution. General Electric’s facility in Lynn, MA was one contributor to the poor water quality, discharging up to 99 million gallons of wastewater per day into the river. This wastewater included significant quantities of petroleum-based oil and grease, the primary pollutants behind GE’s more than 1,000 days of Clean Water Act violations at the facility from 1980 to 1987.
In 1987, NELC sued GE, on behalf of the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group, to bring it into compliance with its permit limits. Over the course of the litigation, GE undertook several projects to decrease its oil and grease exceedances,. In 1988, the parties reached a settlement, entered as a court-ordered consent decree, requiring GE to comply with its Clean Water Act permit limits by January 1989; remove building materials, residue, and debris from the banks of the Saugus River; and pay a $120,000 penalty, $100,000 of which established an environmental trust for the Saugus River.
Unfortunately, GE did not achieve compliance with its permit limits, and. NELC eventually went back to court to enforce the consent decree. This resulted in a 1993 modified decree that required GE to undertake more substantial plant upgrades to reduce oil and grease discharges. In addition, the company was required to pay the largest citizen suit penalty in Massachusetts history, totaling more than $1 million, with a significant portion earmarked for two Saugus River environmental projects.
In total, GE spent approximately $5.5 million on plant upgrades to comply with the Clean Water Act and protect invaluable natural resources.