Beginning in 1984, ICI Americas, Inc., a division of Imperial Chemical Industries, then the fourth-largest chemical company in the world, discharged toxic wastewater into a small brook from its specialty chemicals and dye-making plant in southeastern Massachusetts. ICI’s discharge contained harmful pollutants such as ammonia and copper at such high concentrations that samples had to be diluted by a ratio of 99:1 before test organisms could survive. At one point, an EPA inspector reported that he had to get out of the brook because the toxic pollutants in the water were causing his plastic boots to melt. And on some dye-making days, the plant’s wastewater caused the Taunton River, into which the brook flows, to turn red as it made its way to the Atlantic Ocean.
In 1989, NELC sued the corporation (which is now part of Durch company Akzo Nobel).to rein in its pollution exceedances and protect Massachusetts’ aquatic ecosystems. After three years of litigation, the parties entered into a court-ordered consent decree that required ICI to substantially upgrade its wastewater treatment system, discontinue specific toxic-intensive product lines, and achieve and maintain compliance with its Clean Water Act obligations. In addition, the company paid a $700,000 penalty, $600,000 of which was used to fund a variety of environmental projects, including local river research and water quality monitoring, a watershed land purchase, and development of a Taunton River “greenway” to encourage walking and biking along the water.