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Low-tech methods to mop up Philippine oil spill include hair, feathers

Low-tech methods to mop up Philippine oil spill include hair, feathers

Most people try keep their hair clean. The Philippines wants its locks as dirty as possible.The Southeast Asian nation plans to use cast-off clippings of human hair from salon owners and other volunteers to help mop up oil from a disastrous spill that has fouled beaches, coral reefs and mangrove swamps in an area that includes pristine marine reserves.
Faced with its worst-ever oil spill and scant funds, the Philippines turned to the low-tech campaign after a tanker sank and began leaking bunker oil three weeks ago off Guimares island, which had been using a nascent eco-tourism industry to get off a list of the country's 20 poorest provinces.
Even President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has joined in, ordering a government task force to set up collection centers for hair and chicken feathers, which also are being used, along with straw and other natural materials.
About 500 hair salons in metropolitan Manila have joined the "Stop the Oil Spill" drive by collecting hair clippings from their shops, said Linda Francisco, president of the Salon Owners and Hairdressers Association Inc.
"We target at least 100,000 bags of hair," Francisco said. "We hope it can be a nationwide effort, not only of salons but also of volunteers who could share their time and donations."
She said her group plans to offer free cuts to students, starting with three public schools next week. One high school alone has 8,000 pupils.
Danilo Dador, an officer at the maximum-security wing of the national penitentiary in Manila's Muntinlupa suburb, said Wednesday that most of the more than 11,000 inmates there have volunteered to have their hair shaved or trimmed.
"They said it will be brought to the oil spill because there will be more damage if the oil will continue to spread, said one inmate volunteer, Bongbong Acoleds. "It needs to be stopped, and they said it could be stopped by hair."
A nongovernment group involved in recycling has agreed to supply trucks to shuttle the hair to the coast guard, which will ship it to Guimaras, Francisco said.
The hair and feathers will then be put in permeable sacks for use as improvised booms to contain the oil.
The idea cropped up at a news conference, when a member of the environmental group Greenpeace pointed to an experiment in the United States that found human hair useful in cleaning up oil.
As the story goes, hairdresser Phil McCrory in the U.S. state of Alabama was watching coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Noticing that an otter's fur was saturated with oil, he wonder if hair could help clean up oil.
He collected five pounds of hair from his shop, stuffed it in a pair of his wife's pantyhose, tied the feet together into a ring and put it in his son's wading pool with some oil. With some scientists' help, McCrory learned that hair doesn't exactly soak up the oil, but that oil clings to thousands of tiny scales on hair shafts.
He applied for a patent on the idea in 1993, and got it in 1995.
NASA engineers in the U.S. did some tests in 1998, showing that hair would indeed help clean up oil.
However, marine biologist Rex Sadaba of the University of the Philippines Visayas isn't sold on using hair or chicken feathers. He says abundant materials like straw may be better.
Sadaba said hair takes time to degrade, does not really absorb oil and may not be hygienic.
"I also don't agree with using feathers, because it stinks when it rots, and that will cause additional problems," he said.
Coast Guard Commander Harold Jarder said food and beverage giant San Miguel Corp. sent a ton of chicken feathers to Guimaras and was willing to provide more, but officials have stopped receiving them.
"It's difficult to handle," he said. "And the workers are complaining because of the stench."


Updated : 2021-10-22 14:44 GMT+08:00