Environment Rhode Island takes legal action to stop Pawcatuck River pollution

Media Contacts
John Rumpler

Senior Director, Clean Water for America Campaign and Senior Attorney, Environment America

Kenyon Industries’ textile mill has violated toxic pollution limits for years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2022 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The non-profit group Environment Rhode Island announced Wednesday that it has filed a 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.

Kenyon (d/b/a Brookwood Finishing) operates what it calls a “state of the art” textile manufacturing facility that straddles the Pawcatuck River in southern Rhode Island, less than a quarter mile upstream of Horseshoe Falls. Environment Rhode Island seeks to put an end to what it says is more than a decade of illegal discharges from the facility into the river. The complaint, filed on August 23, alleges that the mill has violated the Clean Water Act 1,784 times since 2017, routinely discharging wastewater with more than two-and-a-half times the permitted concentrations of copper, a toxic pollutant.   

“The Pawcatuck is a treasured natural resource,” said John Rumpler, the Clean Water Program senior director for Environment Rhode Island.  “Requiring Kenyon to take the steps necessary to achieve compliance with its mandatory pollution limits, like every other company is required to do, will help improve water quality downstream of the facility and ensure the entire river lives up to its pristine reputation.”

Sixty days prior to filing, as is required before filing a citizen enforcement suit, Environment Rhode Island served a notice of violation on Kenyon, Brookwood, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Protection describing the alleged violations in detail. In addition to alleging copper violations, the suit alleges that the wastewater discharged by Kenyon into the Pawcatuck River in violation of its permit has repeatedly been found to be acutely toxic to aquatic life.. 

Environment Rhode Island and representatives of Kenyon are communicating regarding the violations alleged in the complaint and the parties are working to reach a resolution that will ensure the immediate and long-term health of the polluted Pawcatuck. 

The 35-mile-long waterway is part of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed, which recently qualified as a National Wild & 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 Native American archaeology sites. It is especially popular with canoeists and kayakers, and supports a variety of additional recreational activities, including swimming, fishing, hiking, and foraging.

Yet 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. This designation classifies the stretch of river as “not supporting” its use as a habitat for fish and wildlife because of elevated toxicity levels.

Under the Clean Water Act, private citizens affected by violations of the law are allowed to bring an enforcement action directly against the violator in federal court. Citizens are authorized to seek civil penalties payable to the federal government and a court order requiring the violator to take steps to comply with the law and remediate its past harm. 

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island and has been assigned to Judge Mary McElroy.  

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
Horseshoe Falls on the Pawcatuck River
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