PROVIDENCE, R.I.—On August 23, NELC attorneys filed a citizen suit against Kenyon Industries, Inc., and its parent company, Brookwood Companies Incorporated, for alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) at their textile mill in Kenyon, Rhode Island.

Kenyon Industries operates what it calls a “state of the art” textile manufacturing facility on the Pawcatuck River in southern Rhode Island, less than a quarter mile upstream of historic Horseshoe Falls. NELC’s lawsuit, filed on behalf of Environment Rhode Island, alleges that the mill has violated the CWA 1,784 times since 2017, routinely discharging wastewater with concentrations of copper, a toxic pollutant, more than 2.5 times its permitted limits.

In addition to enumerating the copper violations, the suit alleges that the wastewater discharged by Kenyon into the Pawcatuck River has repeatedly been found to be acutely toxic to aquatic life, also in violation of Kenyon’s 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 an “impaired” water body. The designation classifies the river as “not supporting” a habitat for fish and wildlife because of elevated toxicity levels.

“Although the lawsuit is limited by law to violations occurring within the past five years, we’ve recently secured public records that indicate Kenyon’s discharge into the Pawcatuck has consistently contained illegal amounts of copper since the 1990s,” explains NELC Attorney Matt Donohue. “Our focus is
on identifying and addressing the causes of this prolonged noncompliance as quickly as possible.”

To that end, NELC attorneys agreed in October to “stay” (postpone) litigation deadlines while they determine whether they can reach a settlement with Kenyon that will help ensure the long-term health of the river. The decision follows numerous meetings with representatives of Kenyon, including a detailed discussion between Kenyon employees and a wastewater treatment engineer retained by NELC.

A particular point of focus is the persistence of the alleged CWA violations despite the completion of Kenyon’s substantial upgrade of its wastewater treatment system in 2016. NELC’s review of publicly-available materials— some readily available online, others, including a detailed engineering report, secured through public record requests—revealed potential flaws in the new system’s design and operation.

Working with their wastewater treatment engineer, NELC attorneys have developed a proposal designed to optimize the system’s operation, which has the potential both to resolve the violations identified in the complaint and to decrease the water quality impacts of Kenyon’s discharge across the board.

“Whether through a structured settlement or sustained litigation, our over-riding goal is to curb these illegal discharges and bring Kenyon into sustained compliance,” notes NELC’s Donohue.