Saving Snips

Hair on the floor goes to the Gulf

— The routine is pretty much the same at the Bryant Hair Studio.

Brenda Young and her cadre of stylists tend to their customers’ hair.

When hair gets cut, that’s when customers and their stylists take part in a gigantic effort to save the Gulf of Mexico and the endangered American shoreline.

Young and her staff have joined an international effort to help capture some of the millions of gallons of crude oil erupting from the bottom of the gulf after an explosion and fire destroyed an oil platform that had been drilling into the sea floor.

Barbers and beauticians across Arkansas are part of an effort to gather the hair that falls to the floor in their shops. The hair is collected and sent to make oil-containment booms to absorb the oil from the sea water and make it less of a threat to the environment.

“I watch the news and get sick,” Young said. “I’m concerned about the impact this will have on our lives for years to come. It is good to do something, even if it’s just sending some hair.”

According to Matter of Trust, an organization that began collecting hair in 2000, human hair is good at soaking up oil because the strands are shaped like a palm tree with scale-like cuticles. A pound of hair can absorb a quart of oil in a minute and can be wrung out and reused up to 100 times, according to information from Matter of Trust.

Marissa Mahoney of State Beauty Supply said Young and more than 75 other salon operators in Arkansas are sending the hair they have collected to SBS’s warehouse in North Little Rock.

“We hope we can collect enough to make a difference,” she said.

Other salon operators in the Tri-Lakes region are also collecting their clippings, but are sending them directly to collection points.

“When we have a few boxes, Matter of Trust sends an e-mail with addresses to send it,” said Nathan Gates, warehouse operations managerfor State Beauty Supplies. “The addresses are in Mobile (Ala.) or other locations on the Gulf.”

Young lets her customers know they are part of the effort.

“I tell every one of my customers who are getting their hair cut that we are going to help with the oil slick,” Young said. “I tell them, ‘Your hair is going to the Gulf.’”

Some of her customers are going beyond just leaving a few clippings behind.

“One of my customers from Bryant, a 19-year-old, just loves animals and is concerned about the environment,” Young said. “She said if we needed her hair for this, she wanted to givemore than just clippings. Her hair was down to the middle of her back, and she said to cut it to her chin. We took 12 inches off.”

The collected hair goes to sites along the gulf where thousands of people are volunteering to make booms by shoving fistfuls of hair into nylon pantyhose.

The hair booms have been used successfully before. In 2007, an oil tanker crashed into a bridge in San Francisco Bay and spilled more than 53,000 pounds of oil, according to news reports at the time. Matter of Trust gave hair booms to volunteers, who used them to clean up the spill.

“There was nothing more effective,” said Bryon Cleary, an engineer who led the 2007 cleanup.

On May 21, officials at BP announced that the company did not want the donated booms or the hair. Lisa Craig Gautier, president of Matter of Trust, said Ronald Rybarczyk of BP Government and Public Affairs informed her organization that there was no need for the hair booms being produced by Matter of Fact.

In a statement issued Monday, Gauiter said BP’s Houma Critical Resources Materials Management office has been in contact with her organization for more than a week requesting data and demos information on the absorbent qualities of the hair-filled booms and the available tonnage of the renewable fiber.

“We understood that they were writing up a report Friday afternoon before hearing from Rybarczyk,” Gautier said.

Young said her salon would continue to collect and send hair clippings until she hears they are no longer needed.

“We need someone as big and bad as BP to stand up to them and get them to fix this,”Young said. “I know this looks like a Band-Aid on a severed arm, but we have to do something. I’ll keep on working on this until this nightmare is over,” she said.

In the meantime, she is looking for those in need of a trim.

- wbryan@

Tri-Lakes, Pages 57 on 05/27/2010