The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a hairy situation, but Sarah Boley intends to make it even hairier.
Boley, 29, a Leechburg native now living in New Kensington, owns four Fantastic Sam’s hairstyling shops in the Alle-Kiski Valley where stylists are gathering and storing the clipped locks of customers that will be used in cleaning up the Gulf spill.
“We want to save the fish, the dolphins,” Boley said. “We just want to help clean it up.”
The hair is being gathered through a program from Matter of Trust, an organization that is a sort of clearinghouse for environmental and recycling issues and organizations.
As the group’s website explains, hair is adsorbent — with a d — meaning it gathers, but does not bond, with oil. That’s different than the more familiar absorbent materials, which soak up materials such as oil and bond with it.
The hair will be woven into mats that can be placed on the polluted waters to collect the oil or stuffed into nylon stockings that will be made into booms to contain and gather the oil. The oil can be extracted from the mats and booms and used.
Phil McCrory, a hairstylist from Alabama, discovered the use for discarded hair and invented the OttiMat — the first hair mat. World Response Group, a company that manufactures the hair mats, claims that during an oil spill, 98 percent of the oil can be recovered. It says that each cubic foot of hair collects 7.8 gallons per 2.5 minutes in use.
Matter of Trust is researching how the mats can be used as a fertilizer after their use at a cleanup site.
Using the hair for the spill cleanup makes perfect sense to Boley and her partners, who are also her parents — Rick and Penny Tonet of Leechburg. They learned about it through an e-mail they received from Fantastic Sam’s corporate headquarters after the April 20 explosion of a deepwater oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
“My dad and I together said, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ We called the stores and said, ‘Save all the hair. We’re going to ship it out,'” Boley said.
“We’ll throw it away anyway,” she said. “I’ll continue to do this even after the oil spill.”
She said the 28 employees at her Fantastic Sam’s shops in New Kensington, Harmar, North Apollo and Buffalo Township are all enthused about the effort — as are the customers.
“I just did a lady’s hair and she was excited to hear about it,” said Stephanie Majersky of Blawnox, a stylist at the Harmar shop.
“The clients are actually proud that their hair will help with the oil spill,” Boley said.
She said that in the past four weeks, they have collected 20 large garbage bags filled with hair, which will be shipped out for use in the Gulf at the end of the week. Afterward, any hair collected will be used in some of the other numerous but less high-profile oil spills that occur around the country.
In addition to the hair, Boley said her shops are offering a 10 percent discount to customers for any of the services they offer if the customers bring in nylon stockings. She said the stockings, which can have runners but no holes, will be shipped out with the hair and used to make the hair booms.
Boley said she would love to go down to the Gulf to help clean wildlife that have been polluted with oil, but can’t because of her business.
“I figured this is what I could do to help, ” she said. “I’d love to do more.”
Additional Information: Oily facts
According to the National Research Council, every year, an estimated 706 million gallons of oil enter the Earth’s oceans. According to the council, the greatest source of spilled oil is households • more than double the amount of the next closest source.
About half of Americans change their vehicle’s motor oil themselves, but only a third of that oil is collected and recycled. The other two-thirds is dumped down drains or spilled on driveways or streets. It ends up in rivers, streams and eventually the oceans. One typical 5-quart oil change improperly dumped can contaminate millions of gallons of fresh water, according to the council.