Sustainable Development

Our commitment sets us apart 

Our founders were pioneers exploring the resources of the American West. In 1881, they discovered borates in Death Valley, one of the driest and hottest places on Earth. From 1883 to 1889, our famous 20 Mule Teams pulled massive wagons hauling borax from Death Valley to the railhead near Mojave, a grueling 165-mile, 10-day trip through high temperatures, deep sands, and steep grades. Working in these unforgiving conditions required careful consideration of water, resources, and people. In six years, the teams hauled more than 15 million pounds of borax.

No team member or mule was ever lost.

During those early days, our founders developed a deep respect for Death Valley’s unique beauty and geological makeup. Today, 145 years later, Rio Tinto Borates remains committed to the environmental preservation and safety practices that are the foundation of our operating principles. Since 2001, our Sustainable Development program has guided how we measure, improve, and report on social, environmental, and economic performance.

At our current industrial-scale operations in Boron, we continually look for ways to reduce water and energy use and greenhouse gas emissions while protecting the health and well-being of our employees. California’s extreme drought conditions have accelerated our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint while delivering an important, rare mineral that’s essential for modern living.

Joshua Tree

Land and Water

Our commitment to protecting the environment dates to the early days of our borates business. Back in 1916, company officials helped write the language that was adopted by the U.S. Congress to establish the National Park Service.

Out of respect for California's Death Valley, leaders donated land holdings to the federal government and lobbied to have the area protected as a National Monument in 1933 and again as a National Park in 1994.

In 2010, Rio Tinto Borates donated another 110 acres and associated mineral rights to the federal government to expand Death Valley National Park. The donation extends the perimeter of the park, giving its nearly one million annual visitors even more of this spectacular wilderness to explore.

Mining and processing borates requires significant amounts of water, making water recycling and management efforts a priority. Ongoing reduction efforts include using recycled water to control dust on haul roads at Boron. Water consumption has also been reduced by millions of gallons through better water recycling.

Land and water

Energy and Waste Reduction

Our Boron, California, operations have lowered energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by more than 5% per ton of product, thanks to improvements in plant design and maintenance practices. The Boron site has been repeatedly honored with Solid Waste Reduction Awards from the California Integrated Waste Management Board.

Our innovative approach to disposing of overburden—rock that lies above the ore—will lead to a significant reduction in diesel use. Traditionally, overburden is hauled outside the actively mined area and disposed of in a secured area away from the pit. Disposing of overburden within mined-out areas of a pit minimizes haulage distance and time, saves on fuel, and reduces the footprint of our external overburden storage. However, this method requires proper risk assessment so that the overburden slope does not fail, covering active mining operations and leading to an economic loss.

Boron’s new approach began with extensive geological engineering analysis. The analysis results characterized the risk of slope failure and predicted the ensuing economic losses. This cost was then compared to the benefits of in-pit dumping, which include fuel savings, and decreased use of machinery. Boron’s analysis suggests that in-pit dumping will reduce diesel use by an average of 4 million liters per year over the life of the mine due to reduction in distance and travel time required to complete a cycle.

Energy and waster reduction

Our ongoing efforts strongly contribute to our vision “to be the sector-leading global industrial minerals supplier that creates better quality of life and sustainable value through our product offerings.”

Wildlife

At our Boron, CA, operations, our 950-square-foot, state- and federally-sanctioned Wildlife Rescue Center is a sanctuary for threatened and endangered species covered under federal and California Endangered Species Acts and the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The center aids stressed birds rescued from the company’s six boric acid tailings ponds and six reclamation ponds.

Equipped with a full triage facility, the climate-controlled center has equipment to wash, treat, and stabilize injured wildlife before releasing them back into the wild or transporting them to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility. Borax environmental employees work under rehabilitation permits from VCA Crestwood Animal Hospital in Ridgecrest and are trained to perform animal rescue.

In addition to conducting daily patrols to monitor wildlife on and near the ponds, our trained employees use remote-control planes to deter birds from lingering near the ponds and a remote-control boat to rescue birds not reachable from shore. The innovative boat, designed by Environmental Technician Larry Fealy and built by a contractor, features an on-board camera, two water propulsion systems, two fans, and a net to quickly and easily capture stressed waterfowl.

We protect desert tortoises with exclusion fencing and strategically placed plant life around the perimeter of the mine. And our Boron employees are trained to watch for and alert the proper authorities to the presence of other wildlife and endangered species that need protection or assistance.

Wildlife
 

Did you know?
Our parent company, Rio Tinto, has established procedures around the world to reduce, reuse, and recycle waste produced at our operations and our offices.

 

To find out more, visit Rio Tinto:

Rio Tinto Borates is a global leader in the supply and science of borates - naturally-occurring minerals containing boron and other elements. Refined borates are essential nutrients for crops. We are 1,000 people serving 500 customers with over 1,700 delivery locations globally. We supply 30% of the world's need for refined borates from our world-class mine in Boron, California, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles.  Learn more about Rio Tinto

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