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Earth Science Laboratories’ secret ingredient opens up world markets
Coke has a “secret ingredient”, McDonald’s has a “special sauce”, and KFC has a “special recipe” that they share with no one and that gives them a leg up on competitors.
They’ve got nothing on Earth Science Laboratories.
The small Holdrege, Nebraska company has a proprietary acid that, among other unique qualities, induces copper sulfate to remain suspended in solution. And while that might not sound like much, it’s a trick that has made ESL into a more than $6 million business, marketing products from coast to coast and in countries around the world.
You see, it turns out that municipal water treatment plants, vineyards, dairies, water parks, resort hotels, and catfish farms, not to mention swimming pools, spas and hot tubs, all have the same problem: they need an efficient, effective, affordable way to control algae and bacteria such as salmonella and e. coli in their water. And when you can suspend copper sulfate in water — as Earth Science Labs can — you get an extraordinarily effective algaecide.
One problem, many markets
Earth Science Laboratories makes products for a variety of markets and ships them from its Holdrege facility. ESL’s EarthTec, for example, is an industrial product designed for use in lakes, ponds, reservoirs, irrigation canals, water treatment lagoons and other water systems. EarthTec has, among other beneficial properties the ability to improve the taste of drinking water.
PristineBlue, on the other hand, is a non-chlorine alternative for pool and spa care, and is used throughout the country in public and private facilities. Many people don’t like the chemical odor and taste of chlorinated water, and among other disadvantages, chlorine irritates eyes and skin, can corrode pool equipment and is harmful to the environment. PristineBlue is environmentally safe, non-corrosive, and gentle on eyes and skin. The formula is EPA registered in every state and certified to NSF/ANSI Standard 60 as a drinking water additive.
Other products marketed by the company include ArgiTec2 which is sold in California for drip irrigation systems, and Foot Bath, which helps prevent hoof rot in cattle.
Made in rural Nebraska
Although ESL is headquartered in Bentonville, AR, all the production is done in Holdrege, where the process was discovered.
ESL has high-tech packaging and labeling equipment for a variety of different sizes and shapes of containers.
“Bulk customers such as water treatment plants or golf courses buy EarthTec in 30-, 55- or 275-gallon containers,” said Jeff Anderson, the head of production in Holdrege. “On the other hand, people can buy PristineBlue as a chlorine replacement for their pool or hot tub in quart or even eight-ounce bottles.” The company has a retail display set up in the office of the Holdrege plant where local customers can buy PristineBlue for their own pool or hot tub.
According to Mike Keen, ESL vice president, the company has three EarthTec salespeople and five PristineBlue sales people, each responsible for different regions of the country. Product for export – a growing category – is handled from the main office.
“We’re selling product in South Korea, Lithuania, South Africa, Panama and Columbia,” Keen said. Keen said he was optimistic about a State Department program in South America matching exporters with buyers that had been through a vetting process. “We expect to be doing a lot more business down there,” he said.
Keen said they were doing so much business with one South Korean company that they asked ESL to help them set up a production facility. “We’d been working with them a long time. Of course we were happy to help them. It’s like they’re part of our family.” The arrangement made sense, he said, because the Koreans were still buying the proprietary acid from ESL.
Taking care of the water
Benefits of Earth Science Laboratories’ products are numerous. It’s used in ponds on golf courses and at resorts to keep them beautiful. When used in catfish farms, the cleaner water seems to keep fish healthier. It keeps dairy cows from developing hoof problems. And when the American Water Works Association selected Oklahoma City’s municipal water as the best-tasting in the country, Keen said Earth Science Laboratories was proud to have played a part.
Keen said the company was developing new products which are still pending government approval, one of which would probably be produced in Holdrege.
In an age where water is increasingly precious and making the best use of what we have is on the minds of decision-makers around the world, the future of Earth Science Laboratories looks bright indeed.