We've seen robots being deployed to help stop the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and now workers have lowered a huge containment dome over the gusher. But environmental groups and local residents are helping out with a much lower-tech solution--using hair, pet fur, and pantyhose to clean up the mess.
Some 400,000 pounds of hair and fur are heading toward the Gulf Coast, where locals are set to gather for "Boom-B-Qs." Residents in Alabama and Florida are collecting cut hair and stuffing it into pantyhose to make oil-absorbing "hair booms."
Apparently, 4-inch PVC piping and toilet plungers are the best means to get the hair or fur into the stocking legs. The hosiery is bundled together into a sturdy mesh casing to increase absorbency.
The booms look like big hair sausages--not too pretty, but they work. Thousands of tiny scales on the surface of hair make it a natural sponge for oil. The best thing is that the booms are reusable after the oil is squeezed out.
San Francisco-based nonprofit group Matter of Trust has been receiving hundreds of tons of hair and fur donations from barber shops, groomers, and salons throughout the U.S., as well as Canada, Europe, and Brazil.
It's encouraging people to make their own hair booms (see the video below). The manufacturing process isn't automated, and it takes about 2 minutes to thoroughly stuff a nylon with hair, according to Matter of Trust.
The group has received a pledge of 37,500 pairs of pantyhose from hosiery marketer Hanesbrands, which is giving another 12,500 pairs to the Sunshine and Shores Foundation in Florida. The foundation plans to make 1 million hair booms over the next three weeks, according to a report in the South Florida Business Journal.
The notion of deploying hair to soak up oil spills isn't new. Hairdresser Phil McCrory, who helps Matter of Trust, was inspired to use hair stockings against oil after watching coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. In 1995, he received a patent for his idea. A Nashville-based company called World Response Group produces hair mats from his invention--see a video featuring NASA testing it here.
In 2006, prison inmates in the Philippines were among those who donated hair (as well as chicken feathers) to help mop up a severe spill from a tanker that sank off the central Philippine island of Guimaras.
In 2009, studies by the University of the Philippines showed the environmental and economic effects of the slick were still being felt three years after the tanker went down; indeed, Prince William Sound has yet to recover from the Valdez spill. Let's hope locals on the Gulf can deploy as many hair booms as possible to mitigate the disaster on their front door.