Hair For Oil

Filed Under (The HELL You Say!) by admin on 13-05-2010

There is a phenomenon under way in the basement of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.

Boxes of hair and tables overflowing with pantyhose fill this hidden corner of the swanky hotel as in-house salon staff attempt to turn the good intentions of people across the country into a solution to the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Since Friday, the 48-person staff of the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans spa has been turning hundreds of pounds of donated hair and pantyhose into makeshift booms for cleaning up the oil spill. Using donations from around the country as well as the New Orleans area, the team has assembled more than 200 2- to 4-foot booms, which they plan to donate for official cleanup efforts through Matter of Trust, a San Francisco, Calif.-based nonprofit that has collected and donated materials for do-it-yourself oil cleanup for 12 years, said Daisye Suduran, assistant spa director.

It is unclear, however, whether or when the booms will be put to use, but that hasn’t stopped donations or calls from potential volunteers who want to help.

The spill, which already is causing hardships for fishers and has the potential to cause serious damage to south Louisiana’s ecology, has reawakened a cottage fundraising industry among T-shirt designers and jewelry-makers who are hoping to raise money for environmental charities aiding in the recovery.

On Sunday, Lenny Kravitz will headline a “Gulf aid” benefit concert for south Louisiana fishers and wetlands restoration at Mardi Gras World River City on the east bank. (See People column on C-1.)

“This gives them something to do,” Suduran said of the boom effort. “They have something to focus on. It’s positive, and there’s a goal to work on together. “We’ve had an amazing response from the community,” she said. “We’ve already run out (of hair) several times. The (donation) bins, we’re literally dumping them a few times a day. Just as quick as we’re getting (materials) in, we’re making the booms.”

The homemade booms, which resemble oversized sausage links, contain approximately 2 to 5 pounds of hair per nylon, depending on the size, Suduran said. The devices work as a filter, with the hair adsorbing oil onto its surface. One boom can be stuffed and finished in two to three minutes, Suduran said.

Matter of Trust has reached out to BP and the state’s Unified Command Group about donating the booms, “but we haven’t heard anything back,” said Tyler Young, communications director for Matter of Trust.

“We’re not trying to get out there and be the guys cleaning it up,” Young said. “We want to get the word out to the parties responsible and let them know that we are stockpiling these booms, and, when they’re ready to use them, we’ll be ready to give them.

Young said Matter of Trust has been in talks with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers representatives in Mississippi and Alabama about designing anchored flotation devices for the hair booms so that they can be used along shoreline, “but it’s not 100 percent confirmed.”

Despite the uncertainty of the booms’ fate, salon owners, pet groomers and individuals from around the country have responded enthusiastically to Matter of Trust’s call for hair and nylons. The organization garnered more registered donors — about 213,000 total — in the past week than it had in its entire existence, Young said.

At the Ritz-Carlton, Suduran has received shipments of hair and pantyhose from out-of-state salons and groomers who chose to send materials directly to the hotel instead of through Matter of Trust. A group of alpaca farmers in Oregon sent her freshly sheared alpaca hair last week, she said.

“The phones have been blowing up,” Suduran said. “It’s amazing.”

Matter of Trust said last week that it was directing its 400,000-pound stockpile of materials to approximately 20 boom-making operations in the Gulf Coast region for oil spill cleanup. The new materials are expected to arrive at the Ritz-Carlton later this week, Suduran said.

Materials are flowing steadily through the hotel’s donation bins as locals drop off the goods and salon staff put them to use, and Suduran has received hundreds of requests from would-be volunteers who want to help make booms. She created a volunteer database of contact information, but without a larger supply of materials, no additional help is needed, she said.

Although it remains unclear what will happen to the booms being created at the Ritz-Carlton, what is clear is that thousands of everyday people from the Gulf Coast region and beyond are eager to help.

“All of us who went through Katrina, we know it’s important for us to have morale in a job, not just sit on your hands,” Suduran said. “It really seems like this has given people a little bit of a morale boost.”

Molly Reid is a staff writer for The Times Picayune

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