Popular Herbicide Blamed in Tree Deaths

Originally considered an eco-friendly alternative to other landscaping products, recently approved and commonly used herbicide Imprelis has been pinned as the prime suspect in the deaths of thousands of eastern white pines and Norway spruces, among other trees, across America.

A product of DuPont, an international company that claims to create sustainable solutions, Imprelis emerged in the market this year, after being conditionally approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last October. Accounts of dying trees came months later, with a cluster of reports surfacing around Memorial Day.

In response to the deaths, DuPont has begun to investigate the allegations, but has not stopped selling Imprelis. Addressing the accusations, the company stated that in many instances, the product had been used without harm to surrounding trees, and evidence is not substantial enough to label Imprelis a tree-killer.

“We are investigating the reports of these unfavorable tree symptoms,” said Kate Childress, a company spokeswoman. “Until this investigation is complete, it’s difficult to say what variables contributed to the symptoms.”

DuPont has attempted to shift the blame off Imprelis, and instead, implicate workers applying the herbicide. In a June 17 letter to customers, company official Michael McDermott wrote that damaged trees may be the result of improper use of Imprelis, whether through poor mixing or combination with other herbicides.

Despite its efforts to wriggle free of fault, the company is currently facing a lawsuit from the Michigan-based Polo Fields Golf & Country Club.  In its claim, the golf club alleges that Imprelis caused “the loss of thousands, if not tens of thousands, of mature pine and spruce trees,” in addition to consumer fraud and negligence.

“Had DuPont tested Imprelis appropriately before distributing it to the marketplace, it would have found that these widely used trees were susceptible to being killed,” said attorney Christopher Keller, who is representing the golf club.

Spokeswoman Childress called the suit “unfounded.”

Imprelis had been tested both by DuPont and EPA officials for twenty-three months before its approval. The herbicide passed four hundred trials, including tests on conifers, a class of tree that includes pines and spruces. Though all the data had not been collected in the time before the product’s approval, both DuPont and the EPA deemed Imprelis safe.

Now, the EPA has entered the early stages of an investigation, collecting information from both DuPont and state officials.

“[The] EPA is taking this very seriously,” said a company representative in a statement.

Imprelis entered the landscaping industry as a beacon of the future, touted by DuPont as “the most scientifically advanced turf herbicide in over 40 years.” Sold only to lawn care professionals, the herbicide is intended to kill broadleaf weeds, such as dandelion and clover. The product has low toxicity, works at low concentrations, and is more effective against stubborn weeds, like ground ivy, than other herbicides.

The utility of the product makes it popular among landscapers, who have been hit particularly hard by the ordeal, having to replace lost trees and deal with angry customers.

Imprelis is allowed in all states except New York and California, which have approval procedures separate from the EPA. New York officials have found that Imprelis leaches into groundwater and does not bind with soil, while California is still in the process of reviewing the product.

In addition to the fate of Imprelis, which experts say is more likely to be restricted than banned, scientists are considering the fate of the trees damaged by the product.

According to Dr. Bert Cregg, a professor of horticulture and forestry at Michigan State University, damaged trees left in place could potentially recover in a few years.

But he also said that the amount of damage allegedly inflicted by Imprelis dampens the optimism of possible healing.

“This is going to be a large-scale problem, affecting hundreds of thousands of trees, if not more.”

Photo Credit: wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/File:Pine_tree_needles.jpg

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