Birds caught in chemical lake of death

The San Francisco Chronicle has a terrific two part story today on the Mojave Desert chemical processing town where migrating birds land and die with regularity. The feathers of the aquatic birds, like the Bufflehead pictured above, become laden in a salty crystal that leave the birds unable to fly out of an arsenic-containing brine.

The stories focuses more on Rita Smith and former plant workers fighting for their lives after developing wide ranging sickness from working in the plant. Read part one of the story and part two.

The company is Searles Valley Minerals (formerly IMC Chemicals) and it’s located in Trona, CA, 170 miles northeast of Los Angeles near the high desert city of Ridgecrest. Thousands of birds have died over the years when they land in the company’s man-made lakes that carries the reside from the chemical plant’s processing run-off.

Here at the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) we know this story all to well. For more than five years IBRRC rescue personnel were contracted to work daily saving birds on the plant’s sprawling lake area. The state ordered the company to rescue salt-laden birds from the plant’s waterways. The chemical plant produces soda ash, boron and sodium sulfate.

IBRRC helped catch and treat hundreds of birds. Most of the birds – ducks, grebes, loons abd white pelicans – were cleaned of the salt, stabilized and then transferred to IBRRC’s San Pedro bird center. The company paid for the state-ordered treatment. Over the past six years, by California Department of Fish and Game estimates, at least 4,000 birds have perished in the area.

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