Impact of DuPont's herbicide Imprelis showing in Minn.
BOB SHAW, St. Paul Pioneer Press
WOODBURY, Minn. (AP) — Laura Christensen's yard looks like a tree mortuary.
Her Woodbury home is surrounded by 19 evergreens that are dead or dying -- thanks to a lawn herbicide that kills trees as readily as it kills dandelions.
The herbicide Imprelis was pulled from the market in October 2011, but its impact only recently is becoming clear. Imprelis is now blamed for the deaths of thousands of trees in Minnesota and many more nationwide.
"When I first saw the damage, I bawled every day," said Christensen, who can't remove the trees until she settles with Imprelis manufacturer DuPont.
DuPont is in the process of making payments that could top $700 million, according to a document on the company's website.
In Minnesota, it has agreed to pay $38,000 to Washington County and $381,800 to the Baker National Golf Course in Medina.
Dozens of homeowners like Christensen either have started their own lawsuits or are waiting for some kind of action from the company.
Christensen's lawyer, Gary Wilson of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, is representing other Imprelis-affected clients in Woodbury, Stillwater and elsewhere in the metro area.
He said there has been a tentative settlement in a Philadelphia court between DuPont and a group of tree owners. But the details have not been released, and he and other attorneys are waiting before they either join the group or sue DuPont separately.
In an email last week, a company spokesman said that 34,000 claims have been filed with DuPont. The company would not comment on how many have been settled or the amount or location of upcoming settlements.
Stricken property-owners often blame the people who applied Imprelis -- which has become a nightmare for Jeff Turnbull, president of LCS Lawn Service of Oakdale.
His company sprayed Imprelis on lawns in 2011 and has been paying for it ever since. Turnbull said more than 1,000 of his customers have had Imprelis-related tree damage.
Out of his 70 employees, 18 now are dedicated to helping customers file claims with DuPont and heal injured trees.
Mark Stennes, plant pathologist for S&S Tree and Landscaping Specialists of South St. Paul, has seen thousands of trees that he thinks Imprelis damaged or killed.
"I have seen whole quarter-mile rows of trees smoked by this," Stennes said. In 33 years in the business, "this is absolutely the worst I have ever seen."
Even with Imprelis off the market for 15 months, the worst might not be over.
Kathy Zuzek,, assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Extension Service, said Imprelis mimics natural hormones to prevent plants from growing.
It's very slow-acting. That means trees that appear healthy might yet die because of Imprelis.
"It was a turf herbicide for broadleaf weeds, marketed as a good and safe herbicide with low toxicity," Zuzek said.
Imprelis can be spread to trees by accidental overspraying or through tree roots.
Particularly vulnerable are white, Colorado blue and Norway spruce and white and eastern white pine. One deciduous tree -- the honey locust -- also is affected.
Payments from DuPont to tree owners have been trickling out for months.
The Washington County board voted earlier this month to accept the DuPont settlement. Out of the total, $26,000 is for damage to three trees near the Historic Courthouse in Stillwater.
County parks manager Peter Mott said the trees are about 20 feet tall.
"They were not killed, but they were severely kicked in the butt," said Mott. "I am anticipating they will need to be replaced, but I am trying to give them a season to show they can survive."
The remainder of the county's settlement is $7,700 for damage to about 12 trees in the Lake Elmo Park Reserve. Mott said the damage occurred when a neighbor applied Imprelis to a lawn and the spray drifted.
At the Baker golf course, Services Manager Jeff May recalled that Imprelis was expensive but supposedly highly effective.
The golf course applied it once, to grass by the main entry.
May believes Imprelis sank into the soil and spread to tree roots when a rain followed the application. "It was a perfect storm," he said.
The visible decay started at the bottom of the trees and worked upward slowly. Some trees are dead, but many more are damaged -- and it aggravates May not to know what will happen.
"You never know with this stuff. Did they die? Will it spread up the branches? Will the tree recover? You might not know for years," he said.
In Woodbury, Christensen's favorite tree used to be a 65-foot-tall pine that towered over her house. It's still standing, but the needles are long gone.
"These trees are one of the reasons I wanted to live in this house," she said. "I feel horrible."
Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press