2011-07-28 / Local & State

Pa. Man Files Suit Over Weed Killer

By George Weigel

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – A new lawn weed killer is killing evergreen trees along with dandelions throughout Pennsylvania and many other states, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Monday.

Tree owners started complaining several weeks ago about the mysterious browning of their evergreens, soon after landscapers applied DuPont’s new Imprelis herbicide.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved Imprelis (aminocyclopyrochlor) last year for commercial use in controlling dandelions, ground ivy, violets, clover and other weeds in lawns.

It’s not available for use by homeowners.

“The evidence is quickly piling up that Imprelis is attacking trees as if they are weeds,’’ said Jonathan Selbin, a lawyer for one of the two firms that filed suit Monday in federal court in Delaware, where DuPont is based.

The suit wants DuPont to pull Imprelis from the market and reimburse tree owners for damages.

It was filed on behalf of a Johnstown woman who lost two trees bought by her deceased sister, and several Indianapolis golf courses that have suffered “catastrophic tree loss.’’

“It’s pretty widespread all over Pennsylvania,’’ said Gregg Robertson, president of the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association. “It’s put landscape companies in a real bind. They have customers saying, `Hey, you need to replace my trees.’’’

Imprelis gained traction after DuPont touted it as a fast-acting product effective at low rates and less toxic to mammals than existing herbicides.

“I’m surprised how quickly it was adopted,’’ Robertson said.

In a letter to landscapers, DuPont official Michael Mc- Dermott said the company was investigating and trying to determine whether Imprelis is involved, and, if so, whether it was applied correctly.

He raised the possibility that the chemical was mixed wrong, mixed with other herbicides or allowed to drift onto nearby trees or their roots.

The damaged and dying trees mainly have been Norway spruce and white pine, and, to a lesser extent, Douglas fir, other kinds of spruce and some yews.

“ We’ve received complaints, and Penn State Extension has been getting complaints,’’ said Nicole Bucher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. “We’ve been submitting them to EPA.’’

Bucher said, in cases in which state inspectors have gone on-site, they haven’t found evidence of misapplication.

The damage has been somewhat of a puzzle. While some evergreens near Imprelis applications have experienced damage ranging from twisted and yellowed new growth to total brownouts, others haven’t been noticeably affected.

Pete Landschoot, Penn State University professor of turfgrass science, said the spotty injury might be related to the soaking spring.

A downside of Imprelis is that it can run off into streams, leach into groundwater and be carried into unintended areas by rain runoff.

Landschoot said that might explain why damage wasn’t reported when the product was first used last fall and why damage occurred this spring even to trees whose roots were well outside where Imprelis was applied.

He adds that Imprelis injury also can be mistaken for other problems such as bugs, disease, lingering drought symptoms from last summer and branch-tip dieback when hot, bright conditions follow a cool, cloudy period.

“Right now, there is much speculation about the details surrounding tree damage due to Imprelis applications but the exact reasons still need to be sorted out,’’ Landschoot said.

In the meantime, landscape companies are facing angry customers and paying out of pocket to replace dead trees.

Robertson said insurers are covering some of the damage, but only after the landscapers meet their deductible _– often $500 per incident.

Selbin said tree owners should preserve evidence by taking soil and branch samples and by taking detailed photos of the damage. More information on how to do that and on the lawsuit can be found at www.lieffcabraser.com/case/484.

As for damaged trees, Landschoot suggests homeowners avoid fertilizing or pruning them.

He said DuPont also is suggesting that injured trees be watered by a soaker hose around the trunks.

McDermott’s letter advised landscapers not to apply Imprelis near Norway spruce and white pine and to avoid using it near any tree or shrub where the spray might drift onto foliage or run off onto roots.

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