Imprelis Debacle Highlights Vulnerabilities of EPA Registration Process

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned sales of Imprelis, DuPont’s allegedly tree-killing herbicide, questions are being raised about the agency’s protocols for registering pesticides and herbicides. According to a report from “Insects in the City,” a blog published by the Texas A&M Extension service, products like <"">Imprelis are tested on a variety of tree species and under a variety of conditions, but not on all species under all conditions. As a result, problems with these types of products often don’t become apparent until they have been on the market for months.

Imprelis, used by professional landscapers to control broadleaf weeds like dandelion, has been blamed for the deaths of thousands of trees, mostly conifers like Norway spruce and white pine. The vast majority of Imprelis tree death and damage reports have come from Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Wisconsin. In Ohio, for example, WTOL reported that pine trees are dying near several area golf courses, including Stone Oak Country Club in Holland. Stone Oak’s General Manager told the station the cost of replacing the massive trees affected by Imprelis could be extensive.

The problems have already prompted property owners in several states to file Imprelis lawsuits against DuPont. One of the first was also filed in Ohio, by Seven Hills resident Luanne Miller. According to Miller’s complaint, trees on her property began to exhibit damage identical to what has been shortly after Imprelis was applied to her lawn. The lawsuit accuses DuPont of, among other things, negligence and fraud, and seeks punitive, statutory and compensatory damages, including the cost associated with replacing damaged tees. It also seeks a court order barring DuPont from selling Imprelis.

According to a report published by The New York Times last month, the EPA reviewed Imprelis for 23 months before granting it 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.

But as “Insects in the City” points out, such testing often doesn’t go far enough to uncover all problems with a product like Imprelis. “Testing for all products continues even after a pesticide has been registered and sold,” the report says. To some extent, “real world testing is always going to be more comprehensive and rigorous than the pre-registration screening process.”

Last Thursday, the EPA 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 came a week after DuPont said it would voluntarily stop sales of the herbicide.

Meanwhile, the number of Imprelis lawsuits pending against DuPont continues to mount. The national law firm of <"">Parker Waichman Alonso, LLP, which is involved in the Ohio lawsuit, has filed a dozen such claims against DuPont in federal courts across the Midwest, and more are pending.

“We expect at the end of the day there’s going to be more than a billion dollars of damage or as much as several billion,” <"">Jordan Chaikin, a partner in the firm, told The New York Times. “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.”

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