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by Marc S. Reisch
August 15, 2011 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 89, Issue 33

EPA ordered DuPont on Aug. 11 to halt sales of Imprelis herbicide one week after the firm, under pressure from the agency, announced a voluntary recall. Both actions follow widespread reports that the lawn weed killer also damaged or killed trees near treated areas.

DuPont touted Imprelis, which contains the active ingredient aminocyclopyrachlor, as being “easy on the environment” when it launched the product last fall. However, EPA has closely followed reports of damage caused by the herbicide, according to a series of letters beginning in mid-July from the agency to the company.

In an Aug. 3 letter to DuPont CEO Ellen J. Kullman, EPA Land & Chemicals Division Director Abraham Ferdas wrote that the agency “had reason to believe” that Imprelis labels “are inadequate to protect non-target plant species, including certain trees.” He explained that EPA could consider Imprelis a “misbranded” product under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide & Rodenticide Act.

Such a determination, Ferdas wrote, would allow the agency to force a recall and assess civil penalties against the firm. DuPont informed distributors about a product return program on Aug. 5.

DuPont’s difficulties with Imprelis are reminiscent of its experience with the fungicide Benlate. It stopped making Benlate in 2001 after fighting claims that the product damaged crops. Between 1991 and 2001, DuPont racked up legal expen­ses for Benlate exceeding $1.3 billion and paid damage claims of some $500 million.

Costs for the recall and damages caused by Imprelis are difficult to assess now, says Gautam Sirur, principal consultant at Cropnosis, a market research firm. Unlike Benlate, Sirur says, Imprelis “was just launched in non-crop use, and action taken was prompt.”


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