5 A little off the top: Hair to help cut Gulf oil spill impact
The rally behind Stamford’s Academy of Information Technology & Engineering Thursday had a ’60s vibe.
Students played guitars, wore peace signs, and held posters painted in psychedelic colors. “Oil Spill Shows Government Enslavement to Corporate America,” read one poster, black chains drawn around the words.
As classmates cheered, Ian Lachowski, 17, cut off his long, dark hair. Taylor Velez, 15, cut the length of her thick brown waves.
The students were taking part in a nationwide movement to collect hair so it can be used to clean up the Gulf of Mexico, site of what may be the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. The hair will be sent to a nonprofit company that uses it to make booms and mats for absorbing oil.
Hair can collect all kinds of oil, including the crude that has been spewing from a well in the gulf since an underwater drilling rig exploded April 20, killing 11 workers.
BP, the company that owns the well; Transocean, owner of the drilling rig; and Halliburton, the subcontractor that cemented the mile-deep well, are unable to plug it. So far 4 million gallons of oil have gushed into the gulf, and the slick is heading for the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
“Since I took the environmental science class, I’m more aware of what’s going on,” said Brittany Flittner, 17, a junior at AITE. “In our class, we’re activists.”
“We shouldn’t be so dependent on oil,” said Kevin Kendall, 17, a senior. “There are so many other options, and oil is not the solution any longer.”
Students are concerned, said Sara White, who teaches environmental science at AITE as part of a University of Connecticut program that allows high-schoolers to earn college credits.
“They feel this is the worst environmental disaster in their lifetimes,” White said.
It has captured the attention of young Americans. During a hearing in the U.S. House of Representatives, where officials from BP, Transocean and Halliburton were testifying, eight young activists sat quietly with “tear drops” of oil painted under their eyes. They watched as company officials blamed each other for the disaster.
“If we don’t have an understanding of the consequences, we will never change policy,” White said. “People have to make educated decisions about who they put in office or the shift won’t take place.”
White’s class invited students from Stamford and Westhill high schools, and asked hair salons and pet groomers in Stamford for clippings, which the students will mail to Matter of Trust, the group that makes the booms.
Matter of Trust accepts curly, straight, dyed, permed or straightened hair, as long as it’s clean. The same is true for pet hair. A pound of hair can absorb a quart of oil in one minute, according to the group.
Booms made of used nylon stockings stuffed with hair, fur or wool are needed because there are not enough manufactured booms to protect the gulf states, where the bodies of turtles, dolphins and birds have begun to wash ashore.
Such booms were used to help clean up a 2007 oil spill in San Francisco Bay, and another in 2006 in the Philippines.
Oil clings to hair without being absorbed, so the booms can be cleaned and re-used.
“It’s cool because it’s a natual way to soak up oil,” Brittany said.
Matter of Trust is getting hair donations from all over the world, according to www.matteroftrust.org. Along the Gulf of Mexico coast, volunteers are assembling booms, and AITE students signed up to help, hoping to take a bus there if they are called. Students also are collecting washed, used nylon stockings.
“I see trees of green, red roses, too. I watch them bloom for me and for you, and I think to myself, what a wonderful world,” sang the student musicians.
“I’m glad they are devoted to their cause,” White said.
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Angela Carella can be reached at 203-964-2296 or email@example.com. Her column runs Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.