PROVIDENCE, R.I.—On July 17, U.S. District Court Judge Mary McElroy entered a judgment approving the settlement of a lawsuit filed by NELC attorneys against Kenyon Industries Inc. and its parent company, Brookwood Companies Incorporated, for violations of the federal Clean Water Act at their textile mill in Kenyon, Rhode Island. The agreement requires Kenyon to improve its wastewater treatment practices and fund projects to restore and preserve the Pawcatuck River.
The lawsuit, filed in August 2022 on behalf of Environment Rhode Island, alleged that Kenyon’s textile manufacturing facility, which physically straddles the Pawcatuck River in southern Rhode Island, had been repeatedly discharging acutely toxic wastewater with concentrations of copper more than two-and-a-half times its permitted limits.
When NELC attorneys filed suit, the stretch of the river just downstream from Kenyon was designated as “impaired”—and classified as unsuitable habitat for fish and wildlife—because of elevated toxicity levels.
The settlement followed months of productive negotiations between NELC attorneys and representatives of Kenyon. Despite completing a major overhaul of its wastewater treatment system in 2016, Kenyon continued to experience numerous problems with the system.
With insights from NELC’s wastewater engineering expert, the sides identified both relatively straightforward ways to optimize the treatment system’s performance and more far-reaching upgrades. The settlement requires Kenyon to begin implementing the simpler improvements immediately, gradually progressing to larger and more expensive upgrades until it achieves 12 consecutive months of compliance with its permit limits.
“We’ve structured an agreement to bring Kenyon into sustained compliance within two years, while incentivizing early action and leaving Kenyon some discretion in determining how best to achieve compliance,” noted NELC Staff Attorney Matthew Donohue, counsel for Environment Rhode Island. “It shows what is possible when a company decides to focus on solutions rather than on dragging things out in court.”
The 35-mile-long Pawcatuck River is part of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed, which recently qualified as a National Wild and Scenic River, a prestigious recognition enjoyed by less than 1% of the nation’s waterways.
As an additional condition of the settlement, Kenyon and Brookwood are required to pay a $10,000 civil penalty for past violations and make an additional payment of $40,000 to the Wood-Pawcatuck Wild and Scenic Rivers Stewardship Council.
The Stewardship Council will direct the money to projects promoting the restoration, preservation, and protection of the Pawcatuck, with a particular focus on the area downstream of the Kenyon mill.