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The Oregonian: Portland salons saving hair to help sop up oil in Gulf spill
Author: By Steve Beaven
Posted: May 23, 2010

At the front of the Tribe Hair Studio in Northwest Portland, there is a white wastebasket, about knee high, half-filled with hair.

Soon, those clippings could be headed to the Gulf Coast as part of a national campaign to use hair to soak up oil gushing from a BP rig that exploded April 20.  

Scientists have raised questions about whether the hair will help stem the massive oil slick now washing ashore in Louisiana. BP has said, essentially, thanks but no thanks.

The nonprofit that is coordinating the collection of hair said recently that its warehouses are full and it's unclear how much longer it will accept donations.

Still, the husband and wife who own Tribe Hair Studio say they'd rather do something -- anything -- than feel helpless.

"It's better than sitting around and waiting for an answer," said Mehdi  Farjami,  who owns the salon with his wife, Wendy.  

Patti Henry,  the owner of Salon Shibumi  in Southwest Portland,  feels the same way.

"We've been collecting it now for a couple of weeks," Henry said. "We have the vet across the street; his groomer is bringing hair over as well."

The two salons are working with a San Francisco nonprofit Matter of Trust that is collecting hair at warehouses throughout the Gulf Coast. The hair is stuffed into nylon stockings and can be used to absorb oil.

Wendy Farjami heard about the campaign, checked it out online and saw a YouTube video that convinced her the campaign could help.

And, indeed, hair soaks up oil. Just ask a barber or a stylist.

But there is some question about whether pantyhose stuffed with hair can make a dent in a massive, monthlong oil spill.

Kathrine Springman, a research scientist and oil spill expert at Portland State University, said that the floating hair will absorb oil only on the surface. One estimate, she noted, suggested the oil could be 300 feet deep.

She also said the hair probably would absorb minuscule amounts of oil, given the size of the spill.

"It's not realistic," Springman said.

BP is using absorbent boom, sausage-shaped rolls that are sometimes filled with polypropylene, to soak up oil.

"It's great that people want to help," said Mark Salt,  a BP spokesman. "But we've got no shortage of the boom we're using and no need to consider other products at this stage."

Still, the Farjamis plan to keep collecting the hair from their floor. They've sent a big box to Matter of Trust and plan to send another soon.

Customers have been enthusiastic.

"They love it," Wendy Farjami said.

Chris Henderson  got her hair styled Saturday morning at the salon. She wasn't aware of the campaign to save the clippings, but it sounded like a good idea to her.

"If it helps, it's great," Henderson said. "We've got to do something."

Wendy Farjami acknowledged that the size of the spill is "overwhelming."

"It sounds like an awful lot of oil," she said. "But there are so many heads of hair."