For years, Bradford Dyeing Association, Inc. (BDA), a textile mill and U.S. Department of Defense contractor, had befouled Westerly, RI, with a double whammy of Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act violations. Neighbors complained about foul chemical odors emitted by the facility, and kayakers observed a “dead zone” in the Pawcatuck River directly downstream of the BDA facility.

To remedy the situation, in 2005 NELC brought a lawsuit on behalf of RIPIRG, Toxics Action Center, and Sierra Club, alleging thousands of violations of environmental regulations. Our two-pronged lawsuit charged BDA with emitting excess amounts of fine particulate matter into the air, and discharging illegal levels of pollutants – including toxic copper and lead, as well as fecal coliform – into the Pawcatuck River as state regulators turned a blind eye. In 2006, NELC re-negotiated a comprehensive settlement that required the company to install a new air pollution control device, retrain personnel to reduce particulate matter emissions, achieve compliance with all wastewater effluent limits, identify and implement necessary wastewater treatment upgrades, and implement additional compliance measures. The company also agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty, half of which established the Bradford Area Environmental Fund, dedicated to improving air and water quality in the Pawcatuck River region.

To NELC’s knowledge, this was the first citizen suit in Rhode Island to enforce both the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.