DuPont v. Lorax: Chemical Giant Settles Suit Over Tree Deaths

Chemical giant DuPont has reached a class-action settlement over its sale of an herbicide that has been blamed for tree deaths across the country.
By @TrishaMarczakMP |
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    Photo shows the effects of DuPont herbicide Imprelis on a Norway Spruce. (Photo/John Kaminski via Flickr)

    Photo shows the effects of DuPont herbicide Imprelis on a Norway Spruce. (Photo/John Kaminski via Flickr)

    Chemical giant DuPont has reached a class-action settlement over its sale of Imprelis, a herbicide that was once deemed an environmentally friendly way to combat weeds but has now been blamed for tree deaths across the country.

    Facing more than 45 class-action lawsuits alleging the company’s Imprelis was to blame for the widespread death of trees, DuPont reached a settlement with its plaintiffs. The Environmental Protection Agency has since halted the sale of the herbicide and is in the process of conducting a study on the chemical’s impact on trees.

    Eagle Crest Golf Course, located on the campus of Eastern Michigan University, was one of the businesses impacted by the herbicide.

    In June 2011, the golf course mysteriously lost about 140 trees, primarily Norway spruce and white pines. Wes Blevins, director of golf at the course, told AnnArbor.com that the trees began to lose their needles and take on an orange hue starting in October 2011.

    Like other businesses, Eagle Crest had ordered the herbicide to destroy weeds on the course lawn. It was initially approved by the EPA in 2010 to do just that, as it was seen as a “low-toxicity herbicide” effective in control of weeds, vines and grasses on “non-food use sites.”

    “In roughly 400 efficacy and phytotoxicity field trials that the manufacturer, DuPont, conducted in their development of the chemical, they reported to EPA that they did not observe adverse effects to trees,” according to an EPA statement regarding the investigation.

    Yet just months after the herbicide hit the market, customers discovered that the chemicals were seeping into the soil, damaging thousands of trees with shallow root systems. The chemical was never approved in New York and California, according to DuPont.

    In August 2011, the EPA ordered the herbicide off the market, forcing the company to halt all sales and rid itself of the product. The EPA order was followed by the class-action lawsuit.

    “Plaintiffs alleged that DuPont misrepresented the safety of Imprelis to consumers, and concealed or omitted its knowledge that Imprelis caused serious lethal damage to mature trees,” a press release issued by Labaton Sucharow, a law firm representing the plaintiff, states. “Plaintiffs also alleged that DuPont had a duty to ensure its product’s safety, and in failing to do so, plaintiffs incurred severe damage to their property as a result of DuPont’s negligent conduct.”

    In a decision seen as a victory for the largest U.S. chemical company, a federal judge ruled in February that DuPont was entitled to settle the class-action lawsuit.

    DuPont dedicated $750 million to payouts, with room to grow the fund to $900 million, according to Bloomberg News. In addition to payouts, it agreed to remove and replace impacted trees.

    More than 33,000 damage claims related to the purchase and use of Imprelis have been filed against the company, according to the law firm of Wright and Schulte. While a settlement has been reached, the firm claims DuPont has not yet processed all of the complaints. The law firm also says payouts do not account for potential soil damage that has yet to be seen.

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