Lisa Gautier
Matter of Trust

My husband has this great philosophy about his work, “When I get to a cul-de-sac, I don’t just keep banging my car into the buildings until I break through, I back up and find another way around the road block to get to where I want to go.” For us at Matter of Trust, the BP Horizon was the wake up car crash that has made us give up on the oil company cul-de-sac once and for all.

Oil companies use oil based products to clean up oil spills. Period. If that was ever going to change it would have changed in 2010. And here is why:

Because there are over 370,000 hair salons and 200,000 pet groomers in the US alone and they each cut an average of 3 lbs of naturally oil adsorbent fiber a day.  (Adsorbant means clings to, aBsorbent means soaks up.)

Because these 2 sectors mobilized in less than 2 weeks to logistically send over 3/4 of a million pounds of hair and fur to the Gulf at their own expense to HELP BP CLEAN THE GULF.

Because owners of 19 huge warehouses right on the water from the Florida Keys to Louisiana donated several hundred thousand square feet of space for the natural fibers to arrive, so that communities would be prepared when the oil came in.

Because over 2,500 alpaca, llama, sheep and buffalo farmers in the US trucked in waste fleece to save the shores.

Because Hanes, Spanx, Hooters waitresses, and so many others… donated over 1/2 million pairs of nylons and tights, tops cut off and legs tubes used to contain the natural fibers and make “booms”.

Because Ben & Jerry’s and their coffee bean partners Green Mountain donated pallets of coffee bean burlap sacks to wrap the booms so they could be dragged over rocks and behind boats.

Because even every child understood the simple concept immediately: “You shampoo because hair collects oil” (skin oils and petroleum in air pollution make for greasy hair).

Because thousands of volunteers stuffed mountains of booms at the donated warehouses and at “Boom B Q’s” and cut-a-thons all over the world and then shipped them to the Gulf, ready to donate to BP before the oil came ashore.

Because there was this HUGE public philanthropic impulse that needed an outlet and we were providing BP with a safe, hands on, inclusive volunteer duty that was related to the oil spill cleanup but didn’t involve the health dangers not to mention legal nightmares of contact with hazardous materials.

Because every zip code in North America and 30 international countries contributed hair cuts, fur clippings and stockings to this natural fiber recycling effort and the EPA called it the most impressive grass roots recycling mobilization they have ever seen.

Because this story received so much press thanks to all the small town and big city hair salons around the country who have local and national media personalities as clients, who were tying their hair cuts to the front page oil spill story. Finally, the Spokesperson at BP headquarters acknowledged publicly BP was tired of being asked about hair.

Because every major news network did live dramatically visual demos of hair soaking up oil in seconds since the materials were so basic and available.

Because online videos went viral showing comparisons between the natural fiber booms and synthetic booms where the volunteer-made natural booms soaked up oil faster and floated for days.

Because hair, fur & waste fleece clippings are free, renewable, light, float & are non-toxic to the environment.

Because BP knew that we wouldn’t put out booms ourselves without an official and established hazardous waste removal plan. We knew that would be irresponsible and to have piles of concentrated oil and Corexit dispersant (don’t get me started on “BP’s Corexit”) just lying around on beaches could be very harmful for communities and wildlife.

Because everyone involved in this program did it on a pro bono and volunteer basis. We know that we are all using oil based products daily and need it for transportation. And we understand that accidents happen. The blame game aside, helping the Gulf was everyone’s first priority, if only BP would listen.

Because BP’s Boom Lady did listen (Lisa Kudchadker Grasso – really a real hero in BP’s Critical Resources Materials Management Team for Boom Acquisition) contacted us after hearing about our booms on Rachel Maddow – CNN. She told Matter of Trust on May 18th 2010 to send them all we had in the warehouses since they were worried about the canals in Louisiana and had tested the hair, fur and fleece and decided that they wanted to boom canals with our natural fiber donations!

Because if they were ever going to face the winds of change… If there was ever the perfect storm… If ever the moment was right for a unifying power to the people, green tech, beyond petroleum, look to the future… If ever there was going to be everything ripe for the tipping point… It would have been in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico.

But even after all this, BP decided that it was preferable for BP to stand by their message that BP synthetic oil based booms and dispersants are superior products and the only ones right for the job.

BP’s spokesperson Ronald D. Rybarczyk, BP’s Government and Public Affairs Department (yes, isn’t that the weirdest – Public Affairs – talk about missing the boat on their job description), without first talking to BP’s own Boom Acquisition department in the same building, posted incorrectly, for 24 hours, on their homepage, that hair booms had 3 problems: They shed hair/fur. They weren’t as fast as their synthetic booms. And they didn’t float. They also said that we were lying that BP wanted our booms. So we connected the Public Affairs department with their own boom department in the same building. Then the BP’s spokesperson apologized to us and we brought up  the top of their home page saying in huge letters BP WILL NOT USE HAIR.  They took it down, but the damage was done.

Marine toxicologists were lashing out at BP for even daring to talk about the extremely minimal and naturally harmless shedding from the booms in comparison to the oil and dispersants with which BP was flooding the Gulf.

BP was bombarded by press demos and YouTube videos of favorable comparisons of hair and fur against synthetics.  Hair and fur were faster, not to mention, free, renewable, mountains of them already made by volunteers.

Fishermen came to our defense from everywhere saying “You can make anything float, even steel!”  Plumbers by the hundreds wrote in saying “Everybody knows that hair floats, that’s why it goes down bathtub drains last and makes clogs. Hair has natural buoyancy!” The next day, BP retracted the negative comments about hair booms, but not before the accusations made a splash in the press and tainted impressions.

We went back and forth on the phone. Mr. Rybarczyk then apologized to us for the “confusion” and firmly told us that they were decided but offered us $10,000 (which we refused.) In their own way, albeit awkward, I believe this was truly an attempt by these individuals to reach out from behind the cumbersome corporate and legal confines.  They were beyond stressed at BP, many hadn’t slept in days, and it was a terrible time for personnel.  We empathize and wish desperately that decisions had been different.

Lt. Wayne Miller, our hero in the US Coast Guard, was one of many, many community liaisons BP sent our way. But by far Lt. Miller was the most dedicated and helpful. BP and Unified Command moved all of their community liaisons every 4 days! Needless to say, project management and connections were continually lost and broken. Even so, Lt. Miller stayed in touch as he was sent from state to state and given new cell #s and email addresses!  He tried so hard, was always so professional and never showed his frustration to us only his devotion to the cause. He was promised over and over that the booms had home to go to. But eventually even he had to resign himself that it was possible we were getting the runaround.

Well, at least we got as far as we did, unlike the other 10,000 offered alternative products whose ideas were simply jotted down at a far away contracted phone bank and the messages never sent to or looked at by BP staff (this information told to us by BP employees). Although Kevin Costner’s vacuum machine and hay farmers got as much traction as we did and their hopes were raised as well, but to no avail.

3 weeks later BP, as an olive branch? posted photos of our volunteers making and using natural fiber booms on private beaches, as part of BP’s Community Outreach Flicker campaign.

But soon the world was weary of the oil spill news story. The press left the Gulf and, quietly, so did BP’s cleanup crews, such that they were.  Many clean ups were photo ops only.  BP soiled booms that were left behind can still be found a year later in parts of the Gulf!

Parrishes and cities in the Gulf are so cash strapped they really couldn’t risk not working with BP as long as there was hope BP would pay for the clean up. After BP left, public works departments, private beach front properties and harbors took some of our donated boom with the promise they would dispose of soiled boom properly in the BP designated hazardous waste landfills in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. The heat and moist air made the stock piles a mold risk, so thanks again to many volunteers and especially to the many Air Force Volunteers helping at Yente Sehman’s warehouse in Florida, the left over booms were taken to landfills without being put to use.  The hair would have gone to the dump if there hadn’t been an oil spill.  But the postage spent and the amount of volunteer hours wasted on booms that could have saved the marshlands, had BP deployed them immediately, broke our hearts.  Our guess is that only 15% of all the booms got soaked with oil.

The BP Exxon product “Corexit”, is a dispersant banned by the EU for health concerns, was injected by BP near the source under water and dumped lavishly by planes on the Gulf.  It did sink a lot of the oil to the sea floor. This meant a lot of the oil never did come ashore and so less booms were needed on the sands but could have been used nontoxicly in the water if they hadn’t sprayed.  And as it was banned in Europe, they had plenty of it to dump and see what would happen. What happened is that the oil and toxins are coating areas of the bottom of the Gulf which is famous for bottom feeders and it’s amazing shellfish.

The Corexit dispersants made it impossible to consider composting any toxic waste or trying to remediate it, even at Universities or labs. Corexit contains an endocrine disrupter 2 butoxyethanol, which means it could cause birth defects, so none of us wanted any one of child bearing years working with the materials for any extended periods of time. Interestingly, Marine Toxicologist Riki Ott, PhD, whom we met up with in Florida, got called by BP executives, who were observing the spill from a boat. They were panic stricken as they had been accidently sprayed by Corexit from their own planes.

Well, we got the message. We turned the car around to get out of that cul-de-sac.  We have now figured out another way to get to where we’re going. No more banging our heads against the oil companies. For years we kept alive the hope “They will be reasonable this time. They won’t only look at the bottom line. They have the infrastructure, we could shift together to a greener future…” But no, this was it. It’s very clear. They aren’t the solution. They were the road block.

That’s OK – There are plenty of other reasonable people who spill oil, (mechanics, trucking, manufacturing, shipping) and thanks to thousands of school projects making hair, fur, fleece booms and doing science class oil spill demos, kids will grow up knowing that natural solutions work and that drilling oil to use oil based products to clean up oil spills is ridiculous and wrong.

I, personally, want to say, I am so sorry that even with so many amazing volunteers and so much good will and support, we still couldn’t manage to make it happen with BP. To name all the TRUE HEROS for the Gulf would take a blog a mile long. But we know for a fact that HUGE THANKS are due to the following outstanding leaders in their communities: Yente Sehman, Amanda Bacon, Daisye Suduran, Margie Perez, Jennifer Underwood, Kurt Lisk, Barbara Johnson, Ingrid Setzer, Summer Burkes, Chris Pearson, Jessica Latin, MaryAnne Banta, Nina Currier, Lorri Weisen, Jane Lance, Mauricio Zuleta, Jim Moudy, Tara McAdams, Tereson Dupuy, Karen Theriot, Preston Trahan, Ruth Coules, Kate Thomassen, Tammy O’Daniel, Holly Valenti, Matt Delucca, Billie Davis… and all the Cut-a-thon organizers, nylon drives, boom-b-ques, scouts, school and after school projects…

Eventually, the next generation will infiltrate oil spill clean up companies with young, natural-fiber savvy employees. And in the way solar did by giving kids solar calculators at universities, oil spill clean up alternatives will quickly become mainstream. It’s long. It’s roundabout. And we are determined, together and thankfully, to get to where we need to go.

Please join us! Check out our Lesson Plans – Hair Matters Program for more details.

For more info please contact:  team@matteroftrust.org