Superintendent Magazine - October, 2012

COLUMNS

The Approach: Imprelis Leaves an Impression - In This Case, a Good One

Editor's view
By Larry Aylward

When the lawyers stopped by his golf course last year to drum up support for the class-action lawsuit they were filing against DuPont Professional Products, Jim (not his real name) politely told them to take a hike.

Jim, the course owner, wanted no part of the lawsuit, saying it would be like piling up on a running back after he'd been tackled for a 5-yard loss. Ambulance chasers, he said.

Besides, DuPont had already compensated Jim for the pine trees that were inadvertently killed by the company's Imprelis herbicide earlier in the year. Jim received "a good chunk of money" from DuPont and was impressed by the company's willingness to fess up and make amends for its mistake. Jim also felt sympathy for DuPont, realizing the company had to be "feeling it" from the Imprelis debacle. It was a company he had supported and admired throughout his years in the golf industry.

That mistake, unfortunately, has led to the end of DuPont Professional Products in the golf course maintenance business. In August, DuPont announced that it was selling its specialty product business to Syngenta, ending its presence in golf. Unfortunately, jobs will be lost.

While DuPont won't comment on it, the sale could have something to do with the financial hardship caused by Imprelis, which has been linked to the deaths of possibly hundreds of thousands of trees, mostly conifers. DuPont has been processing claims for compensation that reportedly run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"It's sad," Jim says.

The report of Imprelis' demise began in spring 2011. Norway spruce and white pine trees were dying, and Imprelis was the suspected culprit.

The following June, DuPont issued a letter to professional applicators cautioning against the use of Imprelis where such trees were present or in close proximity to the property being treated. In July, DuPont acknowledged to the Environmental Protection Agency that there had been damage to trees associated with Imprelis. The EPA ordered DuPont to stop selling Imprelis and to recall the product. The following month DuPont voluntarily suspended sales of Imprelis and announced that it would conduct a product return and refund program.

Jim says he would've kept the product if he could've, calling Imprelis "tremendous" and "incredible," despite the fact that it killed trees on his golf course.

"I wish we could still spray it, even knowing it has adverse effects on some trees," Jim says. "It's the best product we've ever put out to control weeds. You'd be hard-pressed to find a weed where it was sprayed."

Jim raved about Imprelis' long residual effect and its (I know this sounds crazy) environmental friendliness. But Imprelis was developed and marketed as just that. When compared to other herbicides that have been on the market, Imprelis was environmentally friendly.

Jim realizes his peers in the golf industry may be furious at DuPont because of the damage Imprelis caused to their courses. Jim's course lost only a few trees, and most of them were out of play. But he knows other courses may have lost hundreds of trees - and signature trees at that.

Many people wonder how DuPont didn't discover that Imprelis was detrimental to certain trees while the company was testing the product. But Jim doesn't.

"How do you develop such a product and make sure it's safe for everything?" he asks.

Jim pauses.

"I guess I should say that I'm impressed with how companies develop new products in this day and age," he adds. "DuPont had good intentions in making Imprelis to help the industry."

Jim realizes it might sound crazy to some, but he misses Imprelis now that it's gone.