PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Environment Rhode Island announced Monday the settlement of its federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against Kenyon Industries, Inc., and its parent company, Brookwood Companies Incorporated, for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act at their textile mill in Kenyon, Rhode Island. The suit alleged that since at least 2010, Kenyon has repeatedly discharged into the Pawcatuck River illegal amounts of copper, a highly toxic water pollutant.
“Rhode Island’s rivers deserve protection from pollution,” said John Rumpler, the Clean Water Program director at Environment Rhode Island. “Today’s settlement finally puts the Pawcatuck River on a healthier path and demonstrates the crucial role that citizen lawsuits play in the enforcement of our core environmental laws.”
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. The Pawcatuck is home to 67 species of fish and numerous historic Native American sites. It is especially popular with canoeists and kayakers, and supports a variety of additional recreational activities, including swimming, fishing, hiking and foraging.
The Pawcatuck flows directly under the textile manufacturing facility operated by Kenyon (d/b/a Brookwood Finishing), less than a quarter mile upstream of Horseshoe Falls in southern Rhode Island. Environment Rhode Island’s suit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Providence, alleges that the mill violated the Clean Water Act 1,784 times since 2017 (within the statute of limitations period), routinely discharging wastewater with concentrations of copper more than two and a half times its permitted limits.
In addition to copper violations, the suit alleges that the wastewater discharged by Kenyon into the Pawcatuck River was found to be acutely toxic to aquatic life on numerous occasions, also in violation of its permit. The state of Rhode Island has designated the 2.16-mile portion of the Pawcatuck River immediately downstream from the Kenyon textile mill as too toxic for fish and wildlife.
The proposed settlement follows months of productive negotiations between representatives of Environment Rhode Island and Kenyon. Despite completing a major overhaul of its wastewater treatment system in 2016, Kenyon has continued to experience numerous problems with the quality of its wastewater. With insights from Environment Rhode Island’s wastewater engineering expert, the parties identified ways to optimize the treatment system’s performance.
If approved by U.S. District Court Judge Mary McElroy, finalizing the settlement will require Kenyon to expeditiously implement a specific series of plant improvements until it achieves 12 consecutive months of compliance with its permit limits for copper and whole effluent toxicity. Failure to achieve compliance will trigger automatic monetary penalties.
“Foremost, we are confident that we’ve structured this agreement to bring Kenyon into sustained compliance within two years,” noted NELC Staff Attorney Matthew Donohue, counsel for Environment Rhode Island. “The settlement agreement incentivizes early action and leaves Kenyon some discretion in determining how best to achieve compliance within the required timelines.”
As an additional condition of the settlement, Kenyon and Brookwood are required to pay a $10,000 civil penalty for their past violations and also pay $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 from the Kenyon mill.
“The Pawcatuck is a treasured natural resource,” said Christopher Grube, chair of the Stewardship Council. “The payment from this lawsuit will go a long way towards ensuring it is restored and protected well into the future.”
Environment Rhode Island is a citizen-based, non-profit, environmental advocacy organization that promotes clean air, clean water, and open space protection. It is a state project of Environment America. For more information, visit www.EnvironmentRhodeIsland.org
The group is represented by the Boston-based, non-profit National Environmental Law Center, which represents citizen groups across the country in actions to enforce the nation’s environmental laws. For more information, visit www.NELC.org