1970 Benlate Fungicide
Before its production ceased in 2001, Benlate had long been one of the company’s most successful fungicides and was registered worldwide for many crops. The active ingredient in Benlate, benomyl, was first synthesized by DuPont researcher Hein L. Klopping in July 1959. Benlate was introduced in 1970 in a wettable powder form made at the Belle, W.Va., plant.
In 1987 DuPont introduced an alternative, dry-flowable form (Benlate 50 DF) that was recalled in 1989 and 1991 due to the presence of the herbicide atrazine in some lots. The recalls generated hundreds of claims, and growers and their lawyers began blaming Benlate 50 DF (even product free of atrazine) for a wide range of plant problems. DuPont initially paid many claims to maintain good customer relations, and at the same time initiated the most intensive investigation in the history of U.S. agriculture to determine whether Benlate 50 DF could cause plant damage. When the testing could not duplicate the claimed plant injuries, the company declined to pay any further claims.
In the following decade, DuPont faced hundreds of Benlate lawsuits. The litigation results were mixed. DuPont won cases before some courts, including a Florida administrative proceeding that found nothing wrong with the product. Other trials resulted in losses, including some for large amounts that reflected the runaway verdicts being rendered by the U.S. jury system in the 1990s. Ultimately, for business reasons, the company decided to stop selling Benlate worldwide in 2001, even though there is still no credible scientific evidence demonstrating that Benlate caused either the crop or health problems alleged in the lawsuits. This decision came as a disappointment to many growers, who continued to rely on Benlate as a safe and effective product throughout the period of litigation.