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Published: Tuesday, 5/11/2010

A hair-raising idea

BP is scrambling for solutions after its failed attempt to lower a 100-ton container box over leaking crude oil pipes a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of hair salons and pet groomers are collecting scores of tons of hair and fur clippings to sop up the mess before it reaches shore.

Hair, as everyone knows, is an oil magnet. That fact led hair stylist Phil McCrory to invent a woven hair mat after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska to aid in the cleanup.

Now, Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, is collecting tons of - in the words of the rock musical Hair - gleaming, streaming, flaxen waxen to stuff into nylon stockings and wrap in mesh, creating sausage-shaped booms that can soak up oil before it reaches sensitive coastal areas.

Some 450,000 pounds of curly, fuzzy, snaggy, shaggy clippings have been collected so far from tens of thousands of hair salons and pet-grooming businesses across the country. Clothing maker Hanes has said it will donate 50,000 pairs of nylons to the effort. Pet supply company Petco said it will donate as much as a ton of clippings per day from its grooming operations. So far, 19 "Boom-B-Q's" have been held in the Gulf area to stuff the hair into nylons.

The oil-absorbing locks have yet to be deployed in the Gulf, nor is it clear they will be. In any case, it's going to take more than hair to clean up the 3.5 million gallons of crude that have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico since an oil rig exploded last month, killing 11 people.

But the hair booms are a testament to human ingenuity. The overwhelming response from across the country is proof that in a crisis Americans can be counted on to give the shirts off their backs - or even the hair off their heads.

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