Hair today, oil spill boom tomorrow
GEE, your hair can save Mother Earth.
The Cebu City government is pinning its hopes on human hair and indigenous materials as an eco-friendly strategy to prevent oil leaking out of the sunken MV St. Thomas Aquinas from reaching the city’s shorelines.
Vice Mayor Edgar Labella, a survivor of the sinking of the MV Princess of the Orient, yesterday demonstrated how to make an oil spill boom using old pantyhose stuffed with human hair.
Clumps of hair donated by salons were stuffed into the stocking and sealed. Tied together they can form a series of absorbent floaters.
A YouTube video also shows how to make the hair boom that can soak oil from a basin full of water mixed with oil.
“We need a 15-kilometer stretch of these hair booms,” Labella said.
He said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Malayan Towage and Salvage Corp., which was hired by 2GO to contain and clean up the spill, approve of the scheme.
Captain Daniel Sarmiento of Malayan, in a news conference, welcome the innovation, saying “Those absorbent booms are still needed especially for the shoreline.”
Aside from human hair, indigenous materials like coconut husks, sawdust, linen and chicken feathers also effectively absorb oil.
Donations of these materials can be dropped off in Fuente Osmeña rotunda, the Office of the Mayor, and the old Compania Maritima building near Cebu City Hall.
The hair boom was invented by Phil McCrory, a hairstylist from Alabama who worked with researchers of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) to use human hair to soak up oil spills.
McCrory was watching TV coverage of 1989’s oil spill in Alaska when he saw an otter being rescued whose fur was saturated with oil, “I thought, if animal fur can trap and hold spilled oil, why can’t human hair?” he said.
In a home experiment, McCrory stuffed five pounds of hair he’d cut into a pair of his wife’s pantyhose. He tied the ankles of the hosiery together to form a ring-shaped collection bundle. Then, filling his son’s wading pool with water, he put the stuffed hosiery into the center of the pool and poured used motor oil into the middle, a 1998 article posted in the Science Daily website said.
“When I pulled the legs of the hosiery ring together, the oil had adsorbed onto the hair inside of it,” McCrory said. “I couldn’t see a trace of oil in the water.”
McCrory found that human hair “adsorbs” – rather than absorbs – oil. That is, instead of bonding with the hair, the oil gathers in layers on the hair’s surface. This allows for easy recovery of the oil and its reuse by simply squeezing it from the collection bundles. McCrory estimated that 25,000 pounds of hair in nylon collection bags can adsorb 170,000 gallons of spilled oil.
Preliminary tests show that a gallon of oil can be adsorbed in less than two minutes with McCrory’s method, the Science Daily report said. /Jose Santino S. Bunachita, Correspondent
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