Haircuts help clean up oil spill
by Staci Giordullo
Hoping to help clean up the Gulf Coast oil spill, thousands of pet groomers and salons across the country sent shorn hair to 19 coastal warehouses operated by Matter of Trust, an ecological charity. "I'm an environmentalist, and this is something I care a lot about," says Cecilia Miller, office manager for highly rated Mutt Hutt Inc. in Chicago.
A highly rated business nearby, Roots Hair Salon, joined forces and donated its human hair. About 60 pounds have been sent between the two, Miller says.
Dwana Williams, director of marketing in Louisiana and Mississippi for the Sport Clips franchise, says managers and customers at many of their 700 stores jumped at the chance to contribute. "It makes people feel good to know a simple haircut could possibly help with the situation," Williams says.
ION Studio, a highly rated hair salon in New York City, has also donated about 60 pounds of hair. "We put a lot of emphasis on environmental sustainability here," says Naomi Knights, color education director. ION only uses all-natural products. "Our clients just love it. They want to help."
Hair is hydrophobic - it repels water while absorbing oil - making it ideal for oceanic spills. Thousands of volunteers gathered along the coast to stuff the hair into donated stockings to create homemade hair booms that float and collect clumps of oil before it reaches the beaches.
Donations stalled briefly in May, when BP said it wouldn't use the booms. It said its commercial booms absorbed more oil and less water than hair, which could also cause debris.
Riki Ott, who helped with the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and wrote two books on the subject, disagrees. "They're dumping all of this oil, and they're worried about a little hair," she says.
Many cites accepted the donations, including Magnolia Springs, Ala. Its volunteer fire department adapted the booms, forming underwater grids to combat underwater oil plumes.
Fairhope, Ala., claimed 1,000 booms, and local residents used them to protect waterfront properties. "All of our research reveals that these booms are highly effective in oil absorption," says Kevin Eslava, Fairhope assistant public works director.
More than 25 miles of booms were made from 45,000 donations, but materials and money are still needed. "This is a marathon, not a sprint," says MOT president Lisa Craig Gautier. "It'll take months and years to clean."