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Tar and Feathers: Groups collect natural materials for oil spill

Posted on 27 May 2010

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When a natural disaster occurs anywhere in the world, American citizens are often the first to dip into their pockets and write a check. In the wake of the April 20 blowout of the BP-owned oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, a disaster on our own shores which is still gushing around 5,000 barrels of oil into the water on a daily basis (BP’s estimate), San Francisco-based nonprofit Matter of Trust has asked civilians to make a different sort of donation. The group is encouraging people to collect hair, wool, feathers, and other materials which are stuffed into nylon stockings to create “Hair Booms” to sop up the oil on the gulf’s surface. For the past few weeks, Sag Harbor residents have heeded this call and amassed hundreds of pounds of human hair and animal fur for the effort.

Above: Harbor Pets groomer Michelle Guzman shears a Bernese Mountain dog, whose fur will be collected to sop up the oil in the Gulf.

Over two weeks ago, Save Sag Harbor member April Gornik heard a National Public Radio piece on Matter of Trust’s initiative. Gornik was already troubled by the images she had seen of oil soaked birds barely alive and felt collecting hair locally was one way to help ameliorate the situation a thousand miles away.
“I figured however small this response is at least it is something,” recalled Gornik who brought the idea to Save Sag Harbor’s board which sent out a newsletter encouraging members to solicit donations from salons and animal grooming businesses.
Gary Lash, a part-time resident of Noyac, asked his barber to save leftover clippings, which Lash had planned to use in his garden to keep the deer away. After reading the Save Sag Harbor plea, Lash decided to donate the hair and retrieved 150 pounds of it from his hair cutter.
“I think this is a really great way to help,” remarked Xavier Merat, owner of Salon Xavier on Bay Street. “Hair is very absorbent. It is like a sponge.”
Merat admitted that extra hair usually ends up in the trash at his business but he has since started collecting it for the effort. In the past two weeks, Save Sag Harbor has collected 140 pounds of natural materials. The organization sends the donations on a weekly basis to a warehouse in Florida and covers the shipping costs.
Robert Gettling, a co-owner of the Dockhouse, was simultaneously conducting a similar collection around the Hamptons. He’s been gathering materials from a Southampton barber shop, Fingers and Harbor Salon in Sag Harbor, and Harbor Pets every Wednesday for the past two weeks and has accumulated roughly 45 pounds of fur and hair.
“This is the first time [charity] hasn’t cost me money. It has only cost me time,” noted Gettling. He added that he has simply had to pay around $20 in shipping costs.
As of Monday, Matter of Trust President Lisa Gautier reported in a phone interview that her group is storing upwards of 10,000 pounds of hair, feathers and wool in 19 warehouses scattered around the Gulf Coast. A recent announcement by BP, however, threatens to put a snag in Matter of Trust’s plans.
BP announced on Friday, May 21, at around 10 p.m. that they “will not use hair boom in [their] response.”
“While this suggestion was submitted to BP as an alternative method for containing … the oil spill, it was not deemed feasible,” continued a press release submitted by Deepwater Horizon Response, a command established to manage response operations. BP representative Graham McKaen explained that a field test in February 2010 revealed that commercial sorbent booms, made from a plastic material, more effectively absorbed oil than hair booms.
“We really appreciate people wanting to help,” said McKaen. But the press statement asked individuals and organizations to “discontinue the collection of hair for hair boom.”
The announcement left Gautier bewildered. Gautier said she had been working with BP’s Houma Critical Resources Materials Management, who were allegedly prepared to accept donations of hair boom.
“Why is there this turn around? We don’t know what to say,” said Gautier.
In a press statement published on Wednesday, Gautier added “Matter of Trust continues to receive hair, fur, fleece, feathers and nylon donations from around the world …. Matter of Trust has been in contact with local parishes and counties in Gulf states, and is prepared to supply hair boom to official government hazardous materials teams that have hazardous waste disposal plans.”
The hair booms, added Gautier in an interview, will remain in the warehouse awaiting use. She said her group plans to conduct their own battery of tests comparing the effectiveness of their boom to the sorbent booms. Matter of Trust will hold a press release later this week from Louisiana.
Meanwhile, Gornik said Save Sag Harbor will continue their drive until June 7, a pledge echoed by Gettling. Matter of Trust’s collection deadline is June 10.
“There are so many people in the South who are ticked off with BP,” remarked Gautier. “This oil is going to be there certainly for months to come. The boom will all get used.”

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