NEW YORK (Reuters) - DuPont was sued on Friday by a Michigan golf club that alleges its widely used Imprelis herbicide kills trees, reflecting a growing nationwide problem being investigated by a top U.S. regulator.
Imprelis, conditionally approved for sale last October by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is lethal to mature landscape trees including Norway and Colorado spruce, white pines and other evergreens, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Delaware.
The plaintiffs include operators of the Polo Fields Golf & Country Club in Southfield, Michigan.
In the complaint, they said Imprelis has 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.”
Kate Childress, a DuPont spokeswoman, in an emailed statement said the Wilmington-based company is evaluating the lawsuit, but is confident that the case is “unfounded” and will oppose it vigorously.
She also said DuPont is investigating whether Imprelis “contributed to the observed symptoms.” DuPont said it has, as a precaution, advised customers not to use Imprelis near Norway spruce and white pines.
An EPA spokesman said that agency has received reports from “numerous states” about problems with Imprelis.
He said the EPA is in the early stages of an investigation, and expects this month to begin an expedited review to decide whether changes are needed in how Imprelis is used.
The Polo Fields lawsuit alleges negligence, consumer fraud and damage to land, among other claims, and seeks class-action status on behalf of Imprelis users in Michigan and nationwide. It seeks triple damages and other remedies.
“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 Christopher Keller, a partner at Labaton Sucharow representing the plaintiffs. “There are certainly at least tens of millions of damages from the forestry that is being killed.
“My understanding is that this is the first lawsuit, and certainly the first seeking class-action status,” he added.
On its website, DuPont calls Imprelis “the most scientifically advanced turf herbicide in over 40 years,” targeting broadleaf weeds such as dandelion, clover, plantains, wild violet and ground ivy.
DuPont said the product went through more than 400 trials, is intended for use only by lawn care professionals, and is approved for use in all U.S. states other than California and New York. The active ingredient is aminocyclopyrachlor.
According to the EPA approval notice, Imprelis was intended to provide “selective broadleaf weed control in cool season and certain warm season turfgrasses” on lawns, golf courses, parks cemeteries, athletic fields and sod farms.
DuPont is one of the world’s biggest chemical companies, with $31.51 billion of net sales in 2010. DuPont shares were down 10 cents at $53.92 late Friday afternoon.
The case is Washtenaw Acquisition LLC et al v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware, No. 11-00624.
Reporting by Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Richard Chang