RANDALL CHASE, AP Business Writer
DOVER, Del. (AP) - The DuPont Co. is halting sales of a new herbicide that has been blamed in several lawsuits for damaging trees in many parts of the country.
The company sent a letter to distributors on Thursday informing them that Dupont was implementing a voluntary suspension of the sales of Imprelis and working on a product return and refund program.
"We sincerely regret any tree injuries that Imprelis may have caused and will work with you and all of our customers to promptly and fairly resolve problems associated with our product," wrote Michael McDermott, global business leader for DuPont Professional Products.
The letter was sent one day after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials wrote DuPont with concerns that it may have misbranded the herbicide because label directions and warnings are inadequate to protect non-target plant species, and that DuPont was asserting that study data on Imprelis was confidential business information that should not be disclosed to the public.
"EPA is concerned about the sweeping nature of DuPont's assertion of confidentiality and is evaluating whether these studies warrant such a claim under the law," division director Abraham Ferdas wrote DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman.
"EPA believes that the public interest demands that this information be made publicly available as soon as possible," he added.
Ferdas also told Kullman that the EPA is considering its enforcement options regarding the mislabeling of Imprelis, including issuing an order to force DuPont to stop its sale or use.
DuPont spokeswoman Kate Childress said Friday that the company has agreed to lift its confidential business designation for the data identified by the EPA, while continuing to conduct its own reviews of label directions, scientific analyses and other data.
"We remain committed to our customers' satisfaction and will take all necessary steps to ensure that objective," Childress said in a statement.
Imprelis, which was registered by the EPA in October and marketed to professionals treating residential and commercial lawns, golf courses and sod farms, was touted by DuPont as "an innovation that was worth the wait."
"It is the most scientifically advanced turf herbicide in over 40 years," the company said in a marketing release, citing more than 400 field trial protocols dating to 2006.
But shortly after the weedkiller began seeing widespread application this spring, complaints about damage to trees, particularly evergreens such as Norway spruce and white pine, began surfacing, especially in Midwestern states.
Lawsuits subsequently were filed in several states, including Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Utah. In Delaware five separate lawsuits have been consolidated in U.S. District Court.
In addition to suspending sales of Imprelis and working to implement a return and refund program, DuPont has created a website and set up a telephone hotline to make it easier for customers to report problems.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)