* Homemade booms developed after 1989 Exxon Valdez spill
* Hair, pantyhose are weapons in fight against oil slick
* They act as sponge, absorbing and trapping spilled crude (Repeating to delete repeated lines)
By Kelli Dugan
MOBILE, Ala., May 6 While a vast containment operation dumps gallons of chemical dispersant and lays miles of plastic boom to attack a massive spreading oil slick, some U.S. Gulf Coast residents are turning to more unlikely remedies — hair and pantyhose.
Shoreline communities threatened by the oil spewing from a ruptured Gulf of Mexico undersea well have started a grassroots campaign to fabricate homemade booms from these mundane materials to help sponge up the tarry mess before it sloshes ashore.
One such drive is under way in Alabama where hair stylist Phil McCory, inspired by TV images of a sea otter soaked with crude, first seized on the idea of using human hair to contain oil slicks after the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
The homegrown Alabama cleanup effort, aimed at producing as many makeshift oil-absorbing booms or “hairmats” as possible, is being led by Liz Ann Howard-Alvarez of Mobile and Amanda Bacon of Point Clear, who began receiving donations this week at a factory set up in a warehouse in downtown Mobile.
Scores of volunteers are being trained in the rudimentary manufacturing process, which involves using a PVC pipe to stuff a stocking leg full of tightly compacted hair.
The hose is then closed with a twist tie and bundled together with other hair-stuffed legs, before being covered with mesh and readied for deployment to trap and soak up oil.
“People in this area are latching on to this as a way to help because everybody’s watching what’s going on and feels helpless. This is our chance to help,” said Bacon.
DONATIONS OF HAIR
In Destin, a town known for its white sand beaches and pristine emerald waters in northwest Florida, Billie Golden said she and her husband had already signed up about 200 volunteers to aid in the assembly of the rudimentary oil containment booms.
“Hair acts as a sponge. When you put these booms in oil-polluted water, they absorb the oil and leave the water crystal clear,” said Billie’s husband Jeff Golden, vice president and co-founder of The Sunshine and Shores Foundation in Destin.
Billie Golden said hair was being donated from around the United States, adding that a friend had just called her to say a car-sized load of compacted hair had been dropped off in her driveway.
Hanesbrands (HBI.N), a big marketer of women’s sheer hosiery in the United States, said on Thursday it was donating 50,000 pairs of pantyhose to the effort.
“Everybody along the Gulf Coast is doing this through different organizations,” said Golden, who said she knew of at least 14 groups from Louisiana to Florida involved in the effort.
“Nobody cares about our beaches more than we do … As locals we know what the tourism industry means to us and we need to do our part in protecting our beaches,” she said.
Like her counterparts in Alabama, Golden said she was working with San Francisco-based Matter of Trust, a nonprofit that began producing “hairmats” in 2007, to collect donations from hair salons across the country.
McCory, reached at his home in Huntsville, Alabama, said he had lobbied unsuccessfully for years to convince coastal communities to stockpile the absorbent homemade mats for quick placement along their shores on the off chance an oil spill disaster occurred.
“I’m not an environmentalist or a tree hugger. I’m just an average guy,” said McCory, who added the oil spill from a Gulf of Mexico well owned by BP Plc (BP.L) had not surprised him.
“The oil companies don’t ever think something like this is going to happen, but that’s like hopping on the Interstate and saying to yourself, ‘Well, I’ve gone 3,000 miles and never had an accident, so it’s not ever going to happen'” McCory said. (Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Cynthia Osterman)