An agreement announced Wednesday is expected to phase out use of the potent but highly toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in California by the end of next year, heading off a legal battle state officials say could have lasted years.

The accord between the state Department of Pesticide Regulation and companies including chemical manufacturer Dow AgroSciences LLC calls for banning sales of chlorpyrifos in the state as of Feb. 6. California growers won't be allowed to possess or use the pesticide after Dec. 31, 2020.

Although state officials announced their intention earlier this year to phase out the pesticide's use, they said industry appeals could have effectively delayed the ban by as much as two years.

"It would’ve been a long public process and perhaps a fairly contentious one as well,” said Val Dolcini, acting director of DPR, which is part of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers say chlorpyrifos, a highly toxic organophosphate, can damage infants' brains. They say there is no safe concentration of the chemical, which has been found in trace levels in drinking water.

Until recently, Kern farmers led the state in the use of chlorpyrifos, largely because its effectiveness in protecting almonds, citrus and other crops cultivated in the county. But as in the state as a whole, its use in Kern has been greatly curtailed in recent years.

State officials classified the chemical as a toxic air contaminant last year, leading to new restrictions on its use, including a prohibition on aerial applications.

Chlorpyrifos' manufacturer, Corteva Agriscience, told the Associated Press in a statement that while it was not pleased with the ban, the company reached the agreement "in the best interests of the affected growers."

"Through recent actions, the State of California has improvised and implemented several uniquely challenging regulatory requirements for chlorpyrifos. These new, novel requirements have made it virtually impossible for growers to use this important tool in their state," Corteva said.

The Kern County Farm Bureau and other ag industry organizations did not respond to requests for comment. But Casey Creamer, president of the trade group California Citrus Mutual, told the AP that state officials had begun to place so many restrictions on the use of chlorpyrifos that it was getting harder to use anyway.

Grower representatives have said the focus going forward should be to develop safe pesticides and practices that can be used in place of chlorpyrifos.

CalEPA noted in its announcement of this week's agreement that the development of "more sustainable alternatives" to chlorpyrifos is supported by the state budget, which set aside more than $5 million in grant funding for projects along those lines.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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