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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Matter of Trust uses donated hair and fur to soak up oil spills

From the the Newsweek blog "The Human Condition"
Oil Spill Answers: Will Hair, Fur and Pantyhose Really Stop the Spread of Oil?
by McKay Coppins

As BP spends millions of dollars a day on efforts to contain the oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental organization Matter of Trust is doing its part by soliciting donations of hair, fur, and nylons. But will this stuff really stop the oil from spreading? How does it work?

Thought up by a resourceful Alabama hairstylist Phil McCrory after watching coverage of the Exxon Valdez spill, the idea is that oil clings to microscopic scales on hair shafts—a macro version of the way that human hair gets gunky when it comes into contact with oil or grease. Pairs of pantyhose are stuffed with hair—animal fur—and then submerged in the ocean to clean up the spilled oil.

And apparently it works. After conducting a few experiments in his backyard swimming pool, McCrory took his invention to NASA and had them test it further. Researchers there concluded that human hair can indeed be effective in cleaning up oil, though they did not rule on the use of feathers or animal fur. has a video showing the production and effectiveness of these hairball booms (see above).

The technique isn't a new one: in 2006, the Filipino government collected thousands of pounds of feathers and human hair in response to the worst oil spill in the country's history. Human hair alone won't clean up the spill, but it's a surprisingly effective, low-tech method in a situation that can clearly use any and all solutions.

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