Archive for May 26th, 2010

A slick solution to a hairy situation

by Toby J. Swaford, K-12 Education Coordinator

Pet hair is often a problem at my house. With two dogs and two cats, I’ve found hair under the sofa, across the back of my pants, and occasionally as an unwelcome condiment at the dinner table. So as the pooches were getting ready for their big Springtime Shed Fest, I decided to take them to the local pet salon for some preemptive grooming. Not only did they emerge clean and fluffy from their day at the doggy spa, they had also done their part to help protect the environment. “Good Dogs!”

It turns out that many groomers, of both people and pets, are collecting recently shorn hair and sending it down to the Gulf of Mexico. Once the hair arrives in costal Alabama, it’s being put to good use by the volunteers of Matter of Trust, a San Francisco based charity, to create long, tubular booms affectionately called “hair sausages.” The idea first came about during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 when an Alabama based hair stylist named Phil McCory noticed the trouble volunteers were having cleaning thick blobs of oil out of the fur of sea otters.

Wondering if human hair was as good at absorbing oil as otter fur seemed to be, McCory did a little research at home. As these things so often go, the entire family ended up contributing to his experiment. First, he stuffed some “borrowed” nylon stockings with hair clippings gathered from his salon floor. He then filled his son’s wading pool with water and dirty motor oil left over from his last oil change. Finally, McCory placed the bags of hair into his impromptu oil slick and discovered that they did an admirably job of picking up the petroleum.

Phil McCory later went on to create the OttiMat, a hair-filled mat that can be deployed easily in the case of an oil spill. Products like this not only help to clean-up the environment, they actually keep waste from entering into it. With millions of pounds of human and pet hair dumped into landfills every year, finding a method of reusing it for bioremediation of oil spills is a win-win situation for everyone. While McCory holds the patent and produces the OttiMats commercially, he has given permission to the folks at Matter of Trust to create their own version to help with the clean-up efforts. So far, more than 400,000 pounds of human and pet hair have gone into the efforts to help protect the environment of the Gulf Coast.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get my hair cut.

Volunteers using OttiMats on Ocean Beach San Francisco, November 9, 2007 (photo from

May 2010

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