How your split ends can help clean oil spills

How your split ends can help clean oil spills

July 28, 2019 46 By Kailee Schamberger



This is the Guimaras oil spill of 2006 and
it's the worst of its kind in the Philippine's history. More than 130
thousand gallons of bunker oil gushed into the Panay Gulf. In an attempt to contain the spill locals turn to an unconventional method: these
freaky-looking sausage things are all filled with synthetic materials
fabricated in a lab. It's also organic stuff you can find on most continents
and probably in your shower drain. It's human hair. After the Exxon Valdez oil
spill in Alaska Phil McCroy, a hair stylist in Alabama, had a novel idea for
the cleanup effort. On TV he noticed how a sea otter's fur had become saturated with
oil and thought if that's what oil would do to an otter's fur, then the same must
be true for human hair. He took scraps of hair trimmings from
work, stuffed them into his wife's pantyhose and tested his new invention
in a small spill he created at his house. NASA's studied and confirmed Phil's
invention worked. I called every hair stylist in Alabama 'til I found him. He said that his garage was full of hair being donated from salons all over the
place, but he'd never been able to make a business out of it and so from like
about 2000, 2001 we were partners. They teamed up on the Clean Wave program. It
collects donated hair, fur, feathers, and other fibers to make recycled felted
mats and hair booms that can mop up oil spills. Turns out hair is pretty good at cleaning up oil. It repels water and can
collect contaminants. Water goes into a sponge and it blows up and that's called
absorbent but oil coats hair on the outside so like it's called adsorbent. Hair is also natural, cheap, and renewable which makes it an ideal material for
cleaning up oil spills. Making a hair boom is pretty straightforward. All you need is human hair and pantyhose. Take the hair, stuff it into the hose, and
voilà. After getting over the freaky feeling of
handling someone else's clumped up hair, place it into contaminated water and
watch the hair boom do its thing. There's little diesel spills all the
time, so like every little harbor can use that stuff. You know, it was a great way
to just kind of string from dock to dock and kind of protect your private beaches. But hair booms and hair mats haven't been the principal method to clean major
oil spills. They weren't used extensively in the aftermath of the Deepwater
Horizon spill, where over the course of 87 days 134 million gallons of oil
gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, crews used 1.8 million gallons of
chemical dispersants, oil skimmers, fire, and booms and barriers made of synthetic
material to clean up the mess. With oil spills, time is of the essence. The longer oil is in the ocean the harder it is to retrieve. The immediate
ecological impact of oil spills is obvious. It kills marine wildlife and
destroys habitats and breeding grounds. The chemicals used to clean up oil
spills also pose a danger to human health. As of now, hair booms and hair
mats are not the primary tools used to contain oil spills, but possibly one day
they could be. It was very interesting for us to see the public desire to help. There's so many hair salons in every city and billions more people
with hair to spare. So it's not out of the realm of possibilities that help for
the next oil spill maybe just one snip away.