Searles Valley Minerals
Searles Valley Minerals Inc. is a raw materials mining and production company based in Overland Park, Kansas. It is owned by the Indian company Nirma. It has major operations in the Searles Valley and in Trona, California where it is the town's largest employer. The company produces borax, boric acid, soda ash, salt cake and salt. It also owns the Trona Railway.
The Trona facility extracts and ships 1.75 million tons of chemicals per year.
Searles Valley Minerals Inc. is part of Climate VISION (Voluntary Innovative Sector Initiatives: Opportunities Now), a public/private partnership which is seeking to reduce US industry greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent between 2002 and 2012. As it operates on government owned land, Searles Valley Minerals Inc. pays royalties of millions of dollars each year to both the federal and state governments. Much of those royalties cover the expenses of local school districts.
The assets of what eventually became Searles Valley Minerals Inc. have a long and varied history.
Founded in 1914 as the American Trona Corporation, it began the production of potash in 1916. After becoming the American Potash & Chemical Corporation in 1926, it began producing borax, soda ash and sodium sulfate. Productions of these chemicals continued to expand throughout the 20th century. In 1962 the company received nationwide recognition and an award for its innovative solvent extraction process to recover boric acid and potassium sulfate from weak brines.
After World War II, the company has endured frictional labor relations with allegations that Latino workers were paid lower wages than Whites. Since then, Latinos have been able to find equal footing and have risen to managerial positions.
In 1967, Kerr-McGee Corporation (now a subsidiary of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation) acquired American Potash and Chemical Corporation and they held operations of the Searles Valley facilities until 1990. That year the operations were purchased from capital investors D. George Harris and Associates which formed the North American Chemical Company.
The company's current incarnation was set up in 2004 when Sun Capital Partners purchased IMC Global Incorporation and renamed it Searles Valley Minerals, Inc. In November 2007, Nirma, based in Ahmedabad, India purchased the company from Sun Capital Partners.
The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has noted that salt toxicosis has killed over 4,000 birds in brine ponds produced by the Trona plant. The DFG made an agreement with the company in 2005 to allow a certain number of bird deaths, if the company paid $300,000 for a new wetlands area in the southern Owens Valley on a main migratory bird route.
There are allegations of arsenic poisoning of plant workers. SVM argued in a letter to the State Water Resources Control Board, that concentration of total dissolved solids, chlorides, sodium and other minerals are higher in natural ephemeral pools than in the company's depleted brine ponds.
The Searles Lake brine is rich in arsenic, and a unique anaerobic, extremely haloalkaliphilic bacterium which uses arsenic for respiration has been isolated from the mud.
- Justis, Ruth (November 28, 2007). "New owners for Trona plant". The Daily Independent.
- "Nirma shares soar 7% on acquisition of US coenvironment". The Economic Times. November 27, 2007.
- Hughes, Wesley G. (October 16, 2005). "Town at 'End of the World' Friendliness Runs Deep in Remote San Bernardino County Desert Hamlet". Los Angeles Daily News.
- "Leasing at Searles Lake". U.S. Department of the Interior - Bureau of Land Management.
- "Searles Valley Timeline". Searles Valley Historical Society.
- Saholt, Linda (June 9, 2005). "Searles Valley Minerals takes steps to protect environment". The Daily Independent.
- Justis, Ruth (May 31, 2007). "Royalty cut a mixed bag for Trona". The Daily Independent.
- Sward, Susan (July 6, 2008). "Ex-worker on crusade against chemical plant". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Holcomb, Jay (July 9, 2008). "Trona bird rescue project: Making a difference". International Bird Rescue Research Center.
- Sward, Susan (July 8, 2008). "Lawmakers call for probe of chemical plant". San Francisco Chronicle.
- Oremland, R., et al., "A Microbial Arsenic Cycle in a Salt-Saturated, Extreme Environment", Science, Vol. 308. no. 5726, pp. 1305 - 1308, 27 May 2005..