A Michigan country club is heading up a federal class action lawsuit that claims DuPont’s Imprelis herbicide caused the death of thousands of mature trees throughout the country. According to various media reports, both DuPont and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are investigating the Imprelis tree death complaints.
The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, the Polo Fields Golf & Country Club LLC of Southfield, Michigan, alleges that Imprelis caused “the loss of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of mature pine and spruce trees,” and the nationwide damage “is mounting with no end in sight.” The Imprelis lawsuit, which was filed last week in federal court in Delaware, seeks class actions status on behalf of all users and purchasers of the herbicide.
Imprelis has only been on the market since last October, and it is only sold to landscapers and professional gardeners. DuPont touted the herbicide as an environmentally-safe way to get rid of broadleaf weeds like dandelions, clover and wild violet. According to a report from The New York Times, the EPA reviewed Imprelis for 23 months before granting its conditional approval, meaning that all of the safety data was not yet in but the agency judged Imprelis to be a good product. DuPont says Imprelis went through about 400 trials, including tests on conifers, and performed without problem.
Imprelis is sold in all states with the exception of California and New York, as those states have separate review procedures for such products. According to the Times, New York State has informed DuPont of two problems with Imprelis: it does not bind with soil, and it leaches into groundwater. New York is not allowing sales of the herbicide unless DuPont can come up with evidence showing these problems don’t exist.
This spring, landscapers began reporting tree damage and death following application of Imprelis. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, state agricultural extension services in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana were naming Imprelis as a suspect in the blighting of Norway spruce and eastern white pines in June. That month, Pete Landschoot, professor of turf-grass science at Pennsylvania State University, issued an Imprelis warning on the university’s extension service that in April and May, “professional turf-grass managers from Iowa to New Jersey experienced damage to certain tree species, primarily Norway spruce and white pine.”
“In some cases, injury does not progress much further than slight curling and browning of new growth; however, in other cases complete dieback is observed. In severe cases, the entire tree turns brown and begins to lose its needles,’ Landschoot continued. The trees appeared to be poisoned through the roots, and Landschoot noted DuPont’s labels warned users to be careful where they spray, since Imprelis has “high potential for reaching surface water via runoff for several months after application,” according to the Inquirer.
DuPont Professional Products acknowledged receiving reports of tree deaths and damage possibly associated with Imprelis in a letter to turf management professionals dated June 17. The company said it is investigating the reports, and has cautioned that Imprelis not be sprayed near Norway Spruce or White Pine, or in places where the product might drift toward such trees or run off toward their roots. However, according to The New York Times, the company also appears to be putting blame for any problems on workers who apply Imprelis, noting that “affected trees might not have mixed the herbicide properly or might have combined it with other herbicides.”
According to the Detroit Free Press, the EPA is expected to begin an “expedited review” of the Imprelis tree death and damage reports. On July 6, the EPA held a teleconference discussing suspected incidents in Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Wisconsin and West Virginia. Incident reports are being collected from those states, and other states have been notified of the problem, the EPA said.
According to the Free Press, the EPA could end up ordering label changes for Imprelis, require additional testing, or order the herbicide off the market.