Boom-B-Qs: The ‘idle hands aspect’ of a disaster

Published 1:14 pm Friday, July 9, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles about the efforts of Samantha Lovelace and several other local residents to help in the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill. The first article ran in the Tuesday, June 29 Bulletin.

People feel compelled to give during a time of crisis. Samantha Lovelace, the Mississippi native turned Polk County resident who spent more than three weeks helping with the Gulf relief effort, refers to this as the idle hands aspect of a disaster.

In other words, as individuals see and hear about other people, animals or ecosystems in danger, they tend to put their idle hands to good use in a variety of ways.

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Organizations leading relief efforts always appreciate financial contributions of course, but there are non-fiscal ways to lend a hand as well.

One contribution has repeatedly made headlines in the weeks following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf: hair booms. People around the world have been cutting their hair and even shearing their pets to help create these oil-absorbing booms.

Hair booms are created by filling nylons (namely ladies pantyhose) with donated hair, fur and fleece. Just as hair absorbs oil from a persons scalp, these hair booms are capable of absorbing the crude oil in Gulf coast waters.

Creating these booms and collecting the hair for the booms has become a community-style event across the country. Salons are donating pounds of hair at a time, and even individuals are hosting haircut parties for the cause.&bsp; Before Lovelace journeyed south she collected hair from many Polk County residents.

Upon arriving in the Gulf, she learned about the assembly process as well. Theyre called Boom-B-Qs: groups of volunteers meeting in warehouses to fill donated nylons with donated hair.

The heavy hair booms are placed inside donated shrimp bags with swimming noodles to facilitate flotation and are then lashed together in long lines, stretching from pier to pier along coastal property. The booms sink low enough in the water to absorb more than just surface oil, and the swimming noodles keep them from sinking when they are filled with oil.

The whole boom-making process is sustainable and natural, and warehouses along the Gulf coast are already full. The non-profit organization leading the boom effort is Matter of Trust, based out of San Francisco.

As Lisa Gautier, the president of Matter of Trust says, people desperately want to help and be involved in the relief effort, so when the call for hair donations went out, the response was overwhelming. Matter of Trust is currently working to safely and legally deploy their supply of hair boom along the coast, and is actively encouraging private citizens to use these booms on their own affected property.

Though hair booms are proven to work more effectively than manufactured booms, Lovelace says they have not been approved by BP for cleanup efforts.

According to media reports, BP has approved its own dispersant as a cleanup material, which some say is toxic in itself, and the company has also approved the use of Ottimatt. Similar to hair booms, Ottimatt uses human and animal hair to absorb oil. These large, woven mats of hair float on the waters surface and are environmentally friendly, non-hazardous and all natural, according to

According to Lovelace, Matter of Trust contacted Ottimatt asking for donated mats to use in the Gulf cleanup, but was told that Ottimatt products were available for purchase but not for donation. According to Lovelace, the company, which is based in Tennessee, outsources all manufacturing to China and keeps its recipe for these approved mats a secret.

“We may have the machines, materials and know-how in order to make something similar in some of the old factories in the Carolinas,” says Lovelace. “We have friends in Hendersonville studying that now, and if we can figure out how to make the mats here, that could bring jobs back. Were open to ideas and suggestions!

Matter of Trust assures citizens in the Gulf that they have plenty of hair booms to go around; these booms are available for private citizens and municipalities local cleanup efforts.

For more information on how you can help visit:

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