Tree owner warns of deadly herbicide

Mike Grow stands next to two trees on his property. Both trees were planted 23 years ago. The tree in front has died after being exposed to a deadly herbicide.

Mike Grow has a sentimental attachment to the nine spruce and white pine trees on the grounds of his Central Feed Service at 1406 7th Street North in Princeton.

Grow was there 23 years ago when he and his father Willard planted the trees as a windbreak after moving the mill from downtown Princeton.

There the trees stood tall and proud, reaching heights upwards of 30 feet, as they showed off their green, coniferous beauty.

Until last year, that is.

Today some of those nine trees are dead. Others are dying.

They have fallen victim to a popular new herbicide called Imprelis that was introduced by DuPont in October 2010 and applied to the lawn of Central Feed Service’s neighbor by a Milaca-based landscape firm.

The application of the herbicide was supposed to kill off broadleaf weeds and dandelions.

It wasn’t supposed to kill 30-foot trees, Grow said.

“It was supposedly safe for lawns, but was detrimental to conifer trees, he said.

Grow first noticed that something might be up with his trees last May.

“I noticed the second one from the end was turning brown,” Grow recalled.

“I thought it might be drought related or maybe a disease brought on by a spider or other insect,” he said.

Grow said, because he had watered the tree since it was a seedling 23 years ago, he kept an eye on it.

Then his neighbor Lee Steinbrecher, owner of Steinbrecher Painting, paid Grow a call.

He was the bearer of bad news. He said his landscape firm applied Imprelis to the lawn at his business and that it was killing the trees.

Steinbrecher lost trees and shrubbery, as well.

Grow was told that the landscape firm would be in contact with him in regards to a financial settlement. He was contacted and was told his case was under review.

The landscape company and an arborist also made a site visit.

“I thought we might have things all settled by January,” Grow said. Now it’s July and there has been no movement on the incident.

Steinbrecher removed his dead trees and shrubbery. Representatives on DuPont’s telephone hotline told Grow that he could remove his trees, too.

“No, I’m not going down that road,” Grow said.

He has left his trees standing so he has evidence of the damage, if needed, he said.

Grow says it isn’t good enough that he be reimbursed for the cost of the trees and their replacement.

He notes that the Imprelis attacks the root systems of plants and trees and that soil would have to be removed on four feet of either side of the trees, as well as four feet deep.

“You’d have to make sure there’s no contaminated soil,” he said. “You just can’t cut a tree down. It would take extensive excavation to get it out of the root system.”

There could also be future groundwater issues since Grow’s well is located a short distance from where his trees are dying.

According to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, some plants showed little injury throughout the 2011 growing season, others died quickly, and the symptoms on others became more severe as the growing season progressed. The number of plants damaged, the level of damage, and plant mortality was highest among white spruce and eastern white pine in Minnesota.

In August of 2011, sales of Imprelis were stopped but damage to trees and shrubs in landscapes continues to be an issue. DuPont initiated a claims resolution process to compensate customers with damaged or dead plants. The deadline for claims submission was February 1, 2012, and DuPont is now processing claims submissions. Lawsuits have also been filed against DuPont.