A major Lompoc employer, Celite World Minerals Inc., has been sold for ,217 million to Imerys US Inc., a subsidiary of the French company Imerys S.A.

The Alleghany Corporation had owned Celite for the past 14 years.

Celite, headquartered in Santa Barbara, mines diatomite and perlite in the hills near Lompoc. The company operates 23 plants in North America, Latin America, Europe and China. It had 1,600 employees at the end of 2004.

"We are a worldwide minerals company, and so is World Minerals, so it was a good strategic fit," said Susan Radcliffe, Imerys/ general counsel. "We are both worldwide leaders of mineral production. It gave us the opportunity for diversification."

Celite has been part of the city/s business landscape since the late 19th century. The first shipment of diatomaceous earth was shipped from the present mining site in 1893. Commercial production of diatomaceous earth started in Lompoc in 1900.

"It/s a big part of Lompoc/s history," said Dennis Headrick, the president of the Lompoc Valley Historical Society. "Almost everyone has either worked up there or has had family work there if they lived here for any length of time."

The company has been sold countless times since its inception, and despite the rumors of layoffs and other changes that typically have followed its many sales, not much has usually changed with new ownership, Headrick added.

"The plant is obviously an important acquisition and being the largest and richest deposit of diatomite in the world, they obviously are not going to shut it down," he said.

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The diatomite mined by Celite is used for beverage filtration systems, swimming pool filters, cosmetics, building materials, paints and other uses.

The cash sale of Celite was announced late last week in a press release, and the transaction has already cleared federal approval procedures.

How much Alleghany will profit from the sale of Celite will be determined once the company/s quarterly report is released in August, said Alleghany spokesman Robert Hart.

"We expect to report a modest profit from the sale," he said.

Imerys USA could not be reached for comment.

Mark Abramson can be reached at 736-2313, Ext. 126, or

July 24, 2005

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