More than a year after DuPont pledged to pay homeowners for trees damaged by herbicide Imprelis, many say they’re waiting for their checks
ERIC ALBRECHT DISPATCH PHOTOS Paul Spencer of Five Seasons Landscape Management cuts down a tree damaged by DuPont’s herbicide Imprelis on Alum Creek Drive.
When will DuPont pay up?
By Jim Weiker | THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
More than a year after DuPont announced that it would reimburse homeowners for damage caused by its herbicide Imprelis, Janet DaPrato is still waiting. • She and others have now spent two summers gazing at brown skeletons where healthy trees once stood.
“We have not heard anything yet,” said DaPrato, who said Imprelis damaged six trees at her Northwest Side home. “I really don’t care as much about the money. I just want to change my trees out.”
Homeowners and landscapers worry that time may be running out. If they don’t receive payment soon, they will miss the fall planting season. “Our clients are getting fed up,” said Mark Wehinger, a partner in Environmental Management Inc., a Dublin landscaper. “Why is this taking so long?”
- DuPont launched Imprelis in the spring of 2011, billing it as “the most advanced turf herbicide in over 40 years.”
But a month or two after landscapers sprayed Imprelis, nearby trees — especially Norway spruce and white pine –— started browning at the tips. Some withered altogether.
Trees that were near the spots where Imprelis was sprayed began turning brown at the tips within a month or two. DuPont says it received 33,000 requests for compensation.
Last September, the company acknowledged that the herbicide was to blame and agreed to pay for the damage, which the company said was concentrated in seven Midwestern and Eastern states, including Ohio. DuPont gave homeowners and landscapers until Feb. 1 to file claims.
Central Ohio landscapers spent weeks documenting damage to clients’ trees. Each tree was given a claim number, photographed and ranked on a scale of 1 to 5 according to its damage.
- DuPont said it received about 33,000 claims for reimbursement.
The company said it has sent compensation offers to more than 75 percent of those and expects to send the remaining offers this fall. The offers detail the amount DuPont is willing to pay; if the homeowner accepts the offer, the company will follow with a check. The company said it has begun sending checks but would not say how many.
- “Resolution of Imprelis damage is a top priority,” Rik Miller, president of DuPont Crop Protection, said in a prepared statement. “This is a complicated process and it takes time to prepare accurate and fair assessments of each property.”
- DuPont has accrued $490 million in costs from Imprelis problems and expects total charges to reach $575 million, according to the company.
DuPont is not disclosing its compensation rates, but local landscapers say it is a formula based on the size of a tree. Because trees taller than 15 feet are rarely planted, damaged ones that were larger receive premium compensation.
- Trees with extreme damage (a 4 or 5 on the 1-to-5 scale) would be replaced by a landscaper. Owners of trees with lesser damage would be compensated for fertilizing, pruning and watering in an effort to restore the trees’ health.
Central Ohio landscapers who sprayed Imprelis say their clients have begun receiving offers, though rarely checks.
“We’ve had 30 or so clients who have been contacted by DuPont, but none who have received any money yet,” said Bill Leidecker, president of Five Seasons Landscape Management in Reynolds-burg. “This is a freaking mess.”
Chris Ahlum, an arborist with Ahlum & Arbor Tree Preservation in Hilliard, said a handful of his clients are just now starting to receive offers.
Landscapers say DuPont’s offers appear fair, with one caveat: They are based on damage estimates from last fall before the full extent of the damage was known.
“Last year, we saw it mainly on evergreen trees, especially white pines and spruces,” Ahlum said. “This year, we’re seeing it a lot more on deciduous trees such as honey-locusts. But I’ve seen it on red maples, on pears, on pretty much any deciduous tree where it was applied.”
Some landscapers have started removing or replacing damaged trees for irate customers, hoping DuPont will eventually pay them.
Homeowners and landscapers frustrated with DuPont have turned to lawyers to seek reimbursement. Thousands have joined a Pennsylvania class-action case against DuPont while others are pursuing different legal avenues.
Richard Schulte, a partner in the Dayton-area firm of Schulte Wright, represents about 300 clients, about 50 of them in Ohio, who are not in the class-action suit. He believes landowners are entitled to more compensation than DuPont is offering.
- “None of our clients are participating in the settlements because the offers are inadequate,” Schulte said.
Leidecker turned to his insurance company for help after running up a big tab trying to placate his clients.
“We got jerked around like everybody else by DuPont,” Leidecker said. “Our clients were very disturbed; they were really adamant that they might take their maintenance elsewhere. I called my insurance company and said, ‘I’ve got a problem.’”
The insurer agreed to pay Leidecker to replace about 4,000 trees, which Leidecker estimates will cost more than $3million.
Complicating the process is a host of unanswered questions about Imprelis. How long will the soil remain poisoned? Will damaged trees recover? Will problems continue to surface on trees that appeared healthy last fall?
DuPont has asked homeowners to leave the trees alone until they reach a settlement. If owners must replant, the company says Imprelis is now so diluted in the soil that it is safe.
- However, Purdue University scientists who have studied Imprelis concluded that the only safe method of replacing trees this year is to remove all roots and soil around the dead tree.
Bernice and Jeffrey Marshall of Delaware left five dead pines along the back of their Delaware property as they waited for a settlement from DuPont.
After repeated calls to DuPont, the couple received a check in August to replace the trees.
The couple consider the settlement fair, although they worry about whether new pines will thrive in the soil.
“Will these trees be damaged? I don’t know what the half-life of this chemical is,” said Bernice Marshall. “But after a year of looking at dead trees, I just want to move on.” email@example.com
(Wouldn’t one think that DuPont would have moved on this miserable problem in a more timely manner? Had Public Relations been just a tad more important to them, somehow the paperwork could have been shuffled just a little swifter. After all, public companies are required to carry liability insurance – – right? Agreed it’s not like losing a loved one, but this is people’s homes which they generally do love very much. Sad for everyone including the company – – it is a given that a grave error occurred someplace. Jan)