It may take more than a month for state officials to process a record number of public comments and issue a final decision in the controversial effort to register the fumigant methyl iodide.
The state Department of Pesticide Regulation granted the makers of the fumigant -- the Tokyo-based Arysta LifeScience Corp. -- preliminary approval in late April.
But as part of final approval process, state regulators must sort through more than 50,000 e-mails and 175 letters that poured in during the 60-day public comment period that ended June 29.
It is the largest volume of comments the agency has received in response to a proposed registration decision, said Lea Brooks, DPR spokeswoman. Officials promise a thorough look at the comments.
Already, DPR scientists have said methyl iodide -- a chemical that clears pests and diseases from the soil -- can be used in California only under stringent conditions, including large buffer zones, reduced application rates and limits on how many acres can be treated at one time.
Although the chemical is allowed in 47 states, California's conditions are the toughest in the nation.
However, environmentalists -- who initiated many of the public comments -- hope the agency reverses its decision and blocks the fumigant from being used in California.
Critics say the chemical -- a potential replacement for the ozone-depleting methyl bromide -- is highly toxic and has the potential to cause thyroid cancer, neurological damage and miscarriages.
Supporters of the registration say many of the environmentalists' concerns are overblown, and that the agriculture industry needs an effective alternative to methyl bromide -- a chemical that has been phased out for agricultural use in the United States because it depletes the ozone.
If the state proceeds with the registration, it would take several more months before growers could use the chemical.