DuPont Imprelis Tree Death Litigation Growing, Damages Could Amount to Billions

Lawsuits continue to pile up against DuPont over its now-banned <"">Imprelis herbicide. In Minnesota alone, five lawsuits have been filed against DuPont on behalf of property owners who claim the herbicide damaged or killed evergreen trees on their property.

Similar Imprelis lawsuits are pending throughout the country. The national law firm of Parker Waichman Alonso, LLP, for example has filed a dozen such claims in Midwestern states, including Ohio and Iowa. It has plans to file more, and a partner with the firm recently told The New York Times that DuPont could face billions in damages.

“You are talking about a lot of people who have dead trees 40 to 50 feet tall, 30 or 50 years old that each cost $20,000 or $25,000 to replace,” Jordan Chaikin said.

In total, 18 Imprelis lawsuits are pending in federal courts in Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation is expected to consider consolidation of Imprelis lawsuits to a single case on September 27.

Imprelis, which was only sold to licensed landscapers, was supposed to be an environmentally safe solution for controlling broadleaf weeds. According to a report published by The New York Times last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed Imprelis for 23 months before granting it conditional approval last October, 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.

But around Memorial Day, property owners and landscapers began to complain of dead and damaged trees in areas where Imprelis had been sprayed. According to a report from the Minnesota Star Tribune, in that state, most of the damage reports involved Black Hills spruce, Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce and eastern white pines. However, there have been reports that deciduous trees and some perennials have shown signs of herbicide damage, too.

Brian Horgan, associate professor of turfgrass management at the University of Minnesota, expressed shock that an herbicide approved by the EPA could cause so much damage.

“The EPA requirements to get a label are extensive,” he told the Star Tribune. “I don’t have an answer on that.”

Both DuPont and the EPA launched Imprelis investigations in June. In a letter issued June 17, the company warned turf management professionals that the herbicide should not be used near Norway spruce or white pine trees, or in places where the product might drift toward such trees or run off toward their roots.

In a second letter dated July 27, DuPont acknowledged that its review had found tree injuries associated with Imprelis, primarily on Norway spruce and white pine trees. On August 4, DuPont voluntarily halted the sale of Imprelis and announced it would soon establish a return and refund program.

Last Thursday, the EPA officially issued DuPont a Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order (SSURO) after data provided by DuPont confirmed that certain coniferous trees, including Norway spruce, white pine and balsam fir, were susceptible to being damaged or killed by the application of Imprelis. The SSURO was issued under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). FIFRA is a federal law that requires the registration of pesticide products and pesticide-production facilities, and the proper labeling of pesticides.

In a statement posted on its website, the EPA said it is investigating whether Imprelis tree death and damage is the result of product misuse, inadequate warnings and use directions on the product’s label, persistence in soil and plant material, uptake of the product through the root systems and absorbed into the plant tissue, environmental factors, potential runoff issues or other possible causes.

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