Monday, May 24, 2010

A Hairy Situation

Posted By on Mon, May 24, 2010 at 10:44 PM

In this week's Gambit, I wrote about the local effort to collect hair and nylon stockings on behalf of Matter of Trust, an environmental non-profit based in San Francisco that promotes using hair and stockings to create oil containment booms. BP, who is coordinating the volunteer efforts for the oil cleanup, had yet to announce whether it would deploy booms or not at press time; Matter of Trust, meanwhile, was sticking to "Plan H" ("H is for hair"), saying it would continue to collect materials and make booms regardless. But on Friday evening, a press release appeared on the Deepwater Horizon Response website saying BP would not use the booms.

According to Daisye Suduran, the assistant spa director at Ritz-Carlton who has been communicating with Matter of Trust, the organization has stopped collecting hair at the moment. They are only collecting nylons and mesh, and they will continue to make booms with the materials that have already been collected. But whether or not the boons are, as BP says, ineffective remains to be seen. The communication up to this point has been a bit confusing.

It started with the Deepwater Horizon Response website press release:

In a February 2010 side-by-side field test conducted during an oil spill in Texas, commercial sorbent boom absorbed more oil and much less water than hair boom, making it the better operational choice.

“Our priority when cleaning up an oil spill is to find the most efficient and expedient way to remove the oil from the affected area while causing no additional damage. One problem with the hair boom is that it became water-logged and sank within a short period of time,” said Charlie Henry, NOAA’s Scientific Support Coordinator in Robert, La.
Commercial sorbent boom is readily available and scientifically designed and tested for oil containment and absorption on the water. Additionally, response teams are familiar with and properly trained to safely deploy, maintain, recover, and dispose commercial sorbent boom. Individuals and organizations are asked to discontinue the collection of hair for the hair boom.

Saturday morning, Matter of Trust published a Facebook status update saying they posted a new press release on its website. The press release's headline was "There has been a misunderstanding":

After a few days of mixed messages to the press, Ronald D. Rybarczyk BP Government & Public Affairs, contacted us at Matter of Trust tonight. Rybarcyzk informed us that they have a plentiful supply of ideal boom for their needs and will not be in want of donated boom or renewable fiber.

We deeply appreciate those at BP's Houma Critical Resources Materials Management for contacting us since May 15th. Upon learning this, Rybarczyk checked then called us back and apologized for the confusion and repeated his original message that there was no need for our boom. This process has been useful and informative. Houma had requested that we send them all data and demos we had on sorbent qualities, available tonnage of the renewable fiber and storage locations. Different packaging suggestions were also researched as we have been requesting new ideas for containment. We understood that they were writing up a report for usage Friday afternoon, before hearing from Rybarczyk.
The boom will be there in case it is needed. There are many Boom B Qs planned for this weekend all along the Coast and the warehouses will soon be fully stocked. At this point, we are asking all new participants who sign up after May 22, 2010 to patiently wait for our emergency alerts before sending more hair to the gulf. We will need all the space we have for all the fiber already in the pipeline.

There seems to be conflicting information: BP's press release says they can't use the booms because they aren't effective, but Matter of Trust says BP is shutting down their efforts because they already have a "plentiful supply." Matter of Trust continued to update their Facebook and Twitter pages, urging volunteers to continue donating nylons and mesh and to keep making booms.

Today, Suduran passed along a message she received from Matter of Trust president Lisa Craig Gautier:

I am the President of Matter of Trust a public charity, est. 1998, that has been getting a lot of press in the past 3 weeks because we collect hair and EVERYBODY in the media goes to hair salons, a lot. We have donations coming in every day to 19 donated warehouses all along the Gulf. Hair, fur and alpaca fleece, donations from every city in North America and many other countries. Everyone wants to help the Gulf!

Our hair (and fur and fleece) clippings are made into booms for collecting oil.

On May 15th BP's department of Critical Resources Materials Management called us and asked us to open the flood gates as they were concerned about the canals needed as much sorbent material as possible. They had reviewed all of our materials and told us they were about to submit a report for usage on Friday when BP's Public Affairs spokesperson shut it down saying they had enough boom and didn't need any donations.

These natural, renewable fibers are extremely effective. Any reports to the contrary are false. We have now posted the demos we did for BP and I am attaching them here. And is it is just hair and fur, and you shampoo and have seen the birds and mammals coated in oil, you know this already.

We have also raised $8,000 in donations and we will spend it on this "pilot" in order to cover gloves, masks, goggles, garbage bags, hazardous disposal costs. And to cover materials for making these boom floatation devices for marshes. People in your parish are offering to make them today. Here's a photo: http://www.matteroftrust.org/about_us/pressRLS.html

She's referring to an idea Richard Herbert sent the organization for a floating cage that can hold many hair booms aligned in rows, where they can sit low and skim oil off the surface.

Suduran says Matter of Trust is currently reaching out to local officials in hopes of conducting a test of the booms (presumably that's the "pilot" Gautier refers to), and she says the organization may come to New Orleans for a few days.

We've reached out Matter of Trust for interviews, but have yet to hear back from them. We'll update the blog with current information as it comes.

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