It’s the reason behind the invention of shampoo: Hair collects oil.

Pounds of hair from New Haven-area residents — and their pets — will be doing just that, on a larger scale. The hair will be used to sop up some of the more than 4 million gallons of oil afloat along the Gulf Coast from a massive underwater leak.

Several state salons, and at least one dog-grooming business, are collecting hair and fur to be stuffed into nylon stockings and used to make booms that will then be deployed in the Gulf.

It is all part of a nationwide effort run by San Francisco-based organization Matter of Trust, which announced last week that 450,000 pounds of hair and fur had been shipped to the region affected by the leak.

Mark Palumbo Sr., who owns Madison Avenue Salon in Madison, said his salon routinely supports charities. He knew he had to take part in the Matter of Trust program when he learned about it from a client.

“It’s just a no-brainer for us. It’s a matter of having the hair and, instead of throwing it out, shipping it to them. And that’s my contribution: paying for the shipping,” Palumbo said.

He said he expected to ship a large bag of hair by the end of the week. Palumbo is also collecting used, clean nylons and tights to send to the Gulf. It is OK if the nylons have runs in them, Palumbo said.

Laura Ouellette Salon in New Haven has been collecting hair, as well as accepting donations from surrounding salons and barbershops in order to cut down on trips to the post office, Laura Ouellette said.

“That was the part that seemed most daunting to me, driving it down to Brewery Street (post office) or whatever. I just figured I could send someone down there once a week,” Ouellette said.

She said customers have been excited about a unique way to help the Gulf.

With most people, it’s “immediately like a lightbulb goes off and they’re like, ‘Yeah, your hair collects oil,'” she said.

While Matter of Trust’s recycling initiative has grown in the wake of the spill, saved hair and fur is useful even when there is not a disaster. Hair can be woven into mats for drip pans during oil changes or under leaky cars, can prevent weed growth and pests and reduce water evaporation when placed in yards, according to a Matter of Trust statement.

These are some of the reasons why Colleen Hainsworth, owner of Angel Paws, a dog grooming business in Branford, has been saving fur since her doors opened in August.

“It cuts down on the amount going into landfills,” said Hainsworth, who has so far donated three large bags of fur. “I have a whole philosophy on grooming; I do what’s best for the dog, and if I do what’s best for the dog, I should do what’s best for the environment, too.”

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On the Gulf Coast Wednesday, a new containment box was placed on the sea floor near the well leak. Engineers hope to work out ways to avoid the problem that scuttled an earlier effort with a much bigger box before they move the cylinder over the end of the 5,000-foot-long pipe from the well.

Contact Amanda Pinto at 203-789-5734. The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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