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Hair, fur, nylons join fight to hold back US oil spill

BP dealt setback in oil containment bid
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) May 8, 2010 - BP was dealt a setback Saturday to capping a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after a containment dome encountered flammable hydrate formations as it was lowered onto the leak site. The gas hydrates, similar to ice crystals, formed on the inside of the 100-ton (90-tonne) chamber as it neared the seabed nearly a mile (1,500 meters below the surface, making it too buoyant and clogging it up, BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told reporters. Workers have moved the concrete and steel box some 650 feet (200 meters) to the side on the seabed while they evaluate their options. An estimated 210,000 gallons of oil have been gushing every day from a pipe ruptured when the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon sank on April 22, two days after an explosion that killed 11 workers.

The high-stakes attempt to cap the leak -- as it could take three months to drill relief wells to stem the flow -- was considered the best short-term solution to stave off the biggest US environmental disaster since the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. "I wouldn't say it's failed yet," Suttles said. "What I would say is what we attempted to do last night didn't work." He said BP was also considering other methods to capture the flow. Among the options being considered was to plug the leak by injecting ground-up material in a "junk shot." "It has certain issues and challenges and risks with it, and that's why we haven't actually progressed up to this point. But we look and continue to see whether that's a viable option," Suttles said. "It's all to do with we're working in 5,000 feet of water in a very difficult, challenging environment."

Workers have also sprayed dispersants over the slick to break it up and deploying hundreds of thousands of feet of boom to contain the spreading oil. But environmentalists have warned that dispersants like Corexit were also nefarious to sea life. "Those products don't make the oil go away," Gulf Coast Research Laboratory marine biologist Joe Griffitt told AFP. "It just falls to the sea bottom. That's where you'll find the sediments and the larvae. So the toxic effect is double." Suttles said BP had anticipated encountering hydrates, but had not expected them to be as significant as a problem. Teams were evaluating whether the issue could be overcome by providing heat, methanol or other methods. The dome had been expected to be operational on Monday and to collect about 85 percent of the leaking crude by funneling it up to a barge on the surface. An estimated 3.5 million gallons of oil has formed a slick the size of a small country which threatens the fragile coastal wetlands of Louisiana and the beaches of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 9, 2010
One day, it was the flowing locks on a client's head; the next it was being stuffed in women's nylons and on its way to help soak up the oil that has begun to wash ashore on the US Gulf Coast.

People from around the world have been giving the hair off their heads, the fur off their pets' backs, and the tights off their legs to make booms and mats to mop up the oily mess spewing out of the sunken BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil platform which is lying on the seabed of the Gulf of Mexico.

"People from France, England, Spain, Brazil, Australia, all over Canada and the United States have signed up," Lisa Gautier, co-founder of the Matter of Trust charity which links up recycled goods -- like hair -- with causes that need them, and is coordinating the collection of hair, fur and tights for the oil slick.

"There are 370,000 hair salons sending hair, 100,000 pet groomers, alpaca and sheep farmers, and the other day we had a huge group of transvestites, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who donated their very long nylons," Gautier told AFP.

US nationwide pet supplies chain Petco joined the effort on Friday, as oil began to wash ashore on Louisiana's beaches.

"We have nearly 1,000 grooming salons across the country and think we can ship up to a ton of fur a day. We can make a real difference with this," Petco spokeswoman Brooke Simon told AFP.

Matter of Trust was getting some 450,000 pounds (204,000 kilograms) of hair or fur coming in every day as of Friday and 50 people or companies signing up every minute.

"All the countries that do not have a natural fibre recycling system are looking at this and responding. Our phones are blowing out," said Gautier.

At the Michael Angelo Hair Studio in Tampa, on the Florida Gulf Coast to the east of the oil slick, staff are sweeping up all the hair clippings that fall on the floor each day, boxing them up and sending them to one of 15 warehouses where the hair will be made into absorbent booms or mats to sop up the oil.

Volunteers take the hair and stuff it into nylon stockings -- queen size are best because "they have kind of big thighs and you can put more hair in there," said Gautier -- which are tied together and covered in plastic mesh netting to make an absorbent boom to soak up the oil.

The US Army Corps of Engineers moved hair-based boom production up a notch this week when it worked out a way to make a mile of boom a day with the hair and fur, Gautier said.

These are not the same as the large booms that are being laid in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Those aim to contain the oil as it heads towards the coast and the fragile wetlands of the Mississippi Delta, whereas the hair- and fur-filled booms will be laid on beaches, where they will soak up any oil that washes ashore.

It's believed the idea of using hair to soak up oil came from a hairdresser in Alabama, Phil McCrory, who had an "aha" moment after seeing Alaskan sea otters saturated with oil after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1998.

"I was thinking, well, if the otter was getting saturated with oil, then the hair that I sweep up should do the same thing," McCrory said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) in 2008.

He swept up hair from his salon floor, took it home, "put it in my wife's pantyhose" and then used it to sop up a spill he made in his pool.

"Within a minute and a half, I had the water crystal clear, and all the oil was in the pantyhose loaded with hair," he said.

Peter Lane, president of Applied Fabric Technologies Inc., the second largest oil boom manufacturer in the world, told AFP that people could go ahead and send their hair, pets' fur and tights to Matter of Trust, safe in the knowledge that the organic-based booms and mats do work.

Hair and fur will typically soak up around four to six times their weight in oil, which is not to be sneezed at.

But it's not as good as industrial booms, which are filled with synthetic microfibers that can mop up 15 times their weight in oil, he said, adding that his New York-based company is starting a second shift to step up boom production in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon accident.

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Spill impact will be 'significant... regardless': EPA chief
Washington (AFP) May 7, 2010
Even if BP manages to quickly cap the oil spill at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental impact from the massive slick will be "significant," Environmental Protection Agency director Bob Perciasepe said Friday. "There already is going to be a significant environmental impact here, even if it stops leaking now," Perciasepe told AFP in an interview. "Everything we are doing i ... read more

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