As millions of gallons of oil float toward the Gulf Coast, tons of one eminently renewable — and absorbent — resource are being shipped in to stop it: hair.
At least 400,000 pounds of human hair and animal fur (cat, dog, sheep, alpaca), donated from salons and groomers throughout the country, are heading to warehouses in the gulf region. Volunteers plan to gather for “Boom-B-Qs” to learn how to make homemade booms stuffed with natural fiber.
According to Matter of Trust, a San Francisco environmental charity, the ridged texture that helps hair sop up natural skin oils also make it effective at catching crude. The group first started collecting hair 10 years ago, using booms and mats made of hair to help deal with a series of small spills before a major push to clean up the Cosco Busan tanker spill in 2007.
Lisa Craig Gautier, who co-founded Matter of Trust with her husband, Patrice Olivier Gautier, said the group had reached a “tipping point,” increasing its network of donors to 90,000, from 35,000 three days ago.
“It’s truly just a surge of philanthropy,” Mrs. Gautier said. “Everybody can get a haircut and donate.”
Hosiery companies are also donating remainder nylons, including 50,000 pairs from Hanes. Salons and groomers are sending hair directly to 15 collection sites, including 20,000 square feet of donated space in Fort Myers, Fla.
Amanda Richardson-Bacon, whose Point Clear, Ala., home is on Mobile Bay, came up with the idea to hold boom-construction parties with another volunteer from Mississippi. She planned to soon train about 125 people, each of whom would then host Boom-B-Qs.
Ms. Richardson-Bacon said the process was simple: Stuff hair into nylons using PVC pipe and a broom or toilet plunger. Remove pipe, tie at top.
“It looks like a giant hair sausage,” she said. “It’s very nasty looking.”
Matter of Trust has not been able to coordinate with the official response team handling the spill, so volunteers are putting out the booms themselves.
“We learned this with the hurricanes,” Ms. Richardson-Bacon said. “You can’t wait for the government or BP to come protect you.”
An article on May 6 about people who donated hair and animal fur to be used to soak up oil from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico misstated the name of a town in Alabama where volunteers taught residents how to create booms with hair. (Officials later decided that using hair and fur was not feasible.) The town is Point Clear, not Clear Point. (A reader pointed out the error in a telephone call earlier this week.)