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Growers say Benlate problems covered up

DuPont Co. produced a defective fungicide, buried embarrassing company reports about it and then pursued a cover-up in the nation's courts, growers charged in a racketeering and fraud suit.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Circuit Court charges growers were victimized by corporate policies denying that the fungicide Benlate DF, which was recalled in 1991, was faulty despite reports of widespread damage in 40 states.

DuPont has spent about $1-billion on Benlate claims and litigation.

At least $1-million in damages is sought on behalf of Florida's 800 ornamental plant growers from the Wilmington, Del.-based chemical company, former DuPont chairman Edgar Woolard, Orlando attorney Thomas Burke and others.

DuPont has vehemently denied Benlate is harmful to plants or people and dismissed the latest lawsuit Wednesday as "old news."

"It takes stale conspiracy theories which have been litigated time and time again and attempts to transform them into a new case," said DuPont spokesman Mike Ricciuto.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, who lost a complaint in 1995 that Benlate caused crop damage, "supports any reasonable effort on the part of growers to recover money they've suffered as a result of DuPont's actions," spokesman Terence McElroy said.

The growers' allegations are a compilation of internal DuPont documents, complaints in an assortment of lawsuits and the findings of judges who faulted DuPont's trial tactics.

Money drove DuPont's decisions as the company rushed an unstable form to market to match the competition, created reasons for rejecting damage claims, cut settlements when fresh damage cropped up and put lawyers in charge of scientific studies to control the results, the suit charged.