¬≠¬≠¬≠(Beyond Pesticides, September 17, 2014) DuPont agreed to pay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) $1.853 million to settle charges from the agency that the chemical giant’s herbicide product ImprelisTM was responsible for killing and damaging thousands of acres of spruce and pine trees in 2011. On Monday, EPA filed a Consent Agreement and Final Order against DuPont for violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for selling and distributing its pesticide product -ImprelisTM herbicide. EPA contends that DuPont failed to submit in a timely manner¬†field trial studies indicating potential ecological adverse effects from the use of Imprelis.
In 2011, in what some say was one of the biggest disasters of its kind, Norway spruce and white pine tree damage and deaths were reported throughout the Midwest, in East Coast states, and as far south as Georgia. It was determined that Imprelis, marketed as a ‚Äúlow environmental impact‚ÄĚ pesticide, was applied during the spring to control weeds on lawns and other landscapes in the vicinity of the non-target evergreen trees. Imprelis, whose active ingredient is the potassium salt of aminocyclopyrachlor, was conditionally registered by EPA in September 2010, in a regulatory process reminiscent of that of the neonicotinoids, which are presently linked to widespread bee decline. Conditional registration is allowed under Section 3(c)(7) of FIFRA, which stipulates pesticide registration can be granted even though all data requirements have not been satisfied, with the assumption that no unreasonable adverse effects on the environment will occur. In fact, EPA‚Äôs registration documents for aminocyclopyrachlor concluded that, ‚ÄúIn accordance with FIFRA Section 3(c)(7)(C), the Agency believes that the conditional registration of aminocyclopyrachlor will not cause any unreasonable adverse effects to human health or to the environment and that the use of the pesticide is in the public‚Äôs interest; and is therefore granting the conditional registration.‚ÄĚ
However, by summer 2011, EPA began receiving complaints regarding tree damage related to the use of Imprelis.¬†Over 7,000 adverse incident reports were submitted involving Imprelis-induced damage (including death) to spruce and pine trees. Test data¬†from DuPont confirms certain coniferous trees, including Norway spruce and balsam fir, as susceptible to being damaged or killed by the application of Imprelis.¬†By August 2011, EPA issued a Stop Sale, Use or Removal Order to DuPont, prohibiting the distribution, sale, movement or removal of Imprelis products. ¬†In September 2011, EPA, with consent from DuPont, amended the registration of Imprelis to, among other things, prohibit the sale, distribution or marketing of Imprelis absent action by EPA.
According to EPA, from October 2010 through June 2011, DuPont distributed or sold Imprelis on 320 occasions with labeling that did not include directions for use and/or warning or caution statements adequate to protect non-target terrestrial plants, thus resulting in a pesticide product that was ‚Äúmisbranded‚ÄĚ under sections 2(q)(1)(F) and/or (G) of FIFRA. Additionally, EPA also alleges that DuPont failed to timely submit 18 field trial study reports to EPA indicating potential adverse effects from the use of Imprelis as required by FIFRA section 6(a)(2) and 40 CFR part 159, subpart D.
“EPA’s ability to protect the public from dangerous pesticides depends on companies complying with the legal obligation to disclose information on the harmful effects of chemicals,” said Cynthia Giles, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. ‚ÄúThis case sends the message that illegally withholding required information will be treated as a very serious violation.”
Ecological Data Gaps Allowed by EPA
However, under conditional registration, EPA can quickly allow to market pesticides that have not been shown to¬†meet¬†the¬†human and environmental health data requirements, with the stipulation that the data can be submitted at a later date. As a result of this loophole in FIFRA, products are distributed and sold that can potentially pose serious risks to non-target sites, organisms, and vulnerable human populations. Clearly, had ecological data on non-target trees and plants been requested and reviewed by EPA before Imprelis was allowed on the market, millions of dollars in damage and tree losses could have been avoided. In an eerily similar case, EPA came under scrutiny since it was revealed a few years ago by Beyond Pesticides that the pesticide, clothianidin- a neonicotinoid conditionally registered in 2003, and since linked to bee decline- does not have complete field data for honey bees, even though this pesticide and others in its class are known to pose risks to bees. Unfortunately, bee data is still outstanding even though clothianidin and other neonicotinoids continue to be used as seed treatment on millions of acres of corn and soybean, and in home and garden products.
Neonicotinoids have been shown to have lethal and sublethal effects in bees, including impaired learning and navigational behavior, suppressed immune systems, and death. Last summer‚Äôs death of over 50,000 bumblebees in Oregon, after application of a neonicotinoid, raises the question of why EPA has been slow to act on this class of pesticides. The Imprelis announcement this week shows that EPA can and should move on pesticides that have been shown to cause ecological harms. Section 13 of FIFRA allows EPA to remove from the market any products found to be ‚Äúin violation of any of the provisions of this Act.‚ÄĚ Using this authority, EPA can take action on pesticides harming bees and other non-target organisms.
Imprelis Regulation and Fallout
After DuPont submitted information to EPA for registration of Imprelis, the proposed registration document was issued by EPA in June 2010. But in a letter to EPA in response to the proposed registration decision, DuPont opposed the agency‚Äôs measures to mitigate risks to non-target plants, including buffer zones, and aerial and ground application restrictions as outlined in EPA‚Äôs document, and challenged EPA‚Äôs risk assessment, claiming the agency ‚Äúoverestimates‚ÄĚ environmental risks. The company stated, ‚ÄúDuPont believes that the stated buffers to non-target aquatic areas and non-target terrestrial areas are not necessary to mitigate off-target movement of aminocyclopyrachlor end-use products …‚ÄĚ Further DuPont continued, ‚ÄúAddition of buffers to aminocyclopyrachlor end-use products will result in lessened utilization of the products..‚ÄĚ
DuPont instead requested the agency stick to the generic label language currently used on other products. Following this request, EPA revised its initial recommendations, removed language requiring 50 foot buffer strips to protect water and non-target plants, and nozzle and wind speed restrictions, retracted disclaimers that the product had a high potential to contaminate months after application, and replaced these more protective statements with generic label language.
Once reports of angry consumers and damaged trees became known, DuPont issued a letter on June 17, 2011 to pest management professionals cautioning against the use of Imprelis where Norway spruce or white pine trees are present or close to a treated area. EPA sent a letter to DuPont on August 3, inviting DuPont to meet to discuss implementation of a ‚ÄúStop Sale, Use, or Removal Order.‚ÄĚ It urged the company to make public all records or other documents regarding scientific studies conducted on Imprelis. The letter stated that EPA is uncomfortable with the amount of registration information DuPont claimed as confidential business information (CBI) under FIFRA. According to the letter, ‚ÄúEPA believes that the public interest demands that this information be made publicly available as soon as possible and, therefore, EPA strongly encourages DuPont to reconsider its CBI claims for these studies, especially for the phytotoxicity studies related to effects on trees.‚ÄĚ The next day, DuPont suspended sales of Imprelis and announced that it will soon conduct a product return and refund program.
Aminocyclopyrachlor (Imprelis) is in the chemical class of the pyrimidine carboxylic acids, which is similar to pyridine carboxylic acid herbicides that includes herbicide such as aminopyralid, clopyralid, and picloram. These chemicals have been linked to repeated incidents where treated plant residues contaminate non-target plants. They persist in the environment, do not break down during composting, and have affected flowers and vegetables, such as beans, peas and tomatoes. Some states as well as the United Kingdom were prompted to take regulatory action due to these incidents.
Alternatives to Vegetation Management
There are some safer¬†options for weed management. To get started, read Beyond Pesticides‚Äô ‚ÄúRead Your ‚ÄėWeeds‚Äô ‚Äď A Simple Guide To Creating A Healthy Lawn‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúLeast-toxic Control of Weeds.‚ÄĚ
For more on Imprelis, Read our article, Dear Consumer: Herbicide Kills Trees
Source: EPA News Release
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.