Gulf coastal communities should, of course, use oil booms if they
But how can they clean up oil which makes it near or onto
There are much better alternatives to the toxic
dispersant  being dumped into the oceans.
historical photos demonstrate ,
hay was successfully used to help clean up the 1969 Santa Barbara oil
these two gentlemen demonstrate that hay is effective at soaking up
hay is bulky, and so it is difficult
to transport long distances ).
Corn cobs are another
alternative. As RP Siegel notes :
By far the most compelling idea I've heard about
comes from a Michigan woman named Adria Brown. Brown's company, Recovery
I Inc., has developed and patented a product called Golden Retriever
that is designed to recover oil from water. It is made from corn cobs.
Corn cobs turn out to be especially effective in this task, due to the
fact that they are buoyant, and the fact that they tend to spin in
moving water, which exposes their entire surface to the oil which clings
readily to it. The absorption occurs quickly, and once adhered to, the
cob will remain afloat without leaching, for over 24 hours allowing
plenty of time for retrieval using skimmers. As an added benefit, the
oil can be completely recovered by centrifuge and the cobs can be
reused. Brown has been working with an extensive farm network across the
Midwest, led by Feeders Grain and Supply of Corning, Iowa, to acquire
the needed materials in quantity. Together, they have amassed a
stockpile of close to 34,000 tons of material that is ready to be
deployed to the Gulf, where it can be administered using barges, that
is, as soon as someone down there asks for it. Sen. Chuck Grassley has
also been involved, helping to move the paperwork in Washington.
will the manpower come from? How about the thousands of fishermen who
are now out of work and are willing to do anything they can to save
their livelihood? How about paying them instead of paying expensive
outside consultants with their exotic chemical cocktails? According to
Ott, who was on location in Lafayette, LA, when I spoke to her, "the
people down here are looking for something that is "bayou-degradable."
can only hope that the folks in charge of the cleanup will listen to
sensible suggestions, rather that continuing to rely on rash measures,
in the appearance of "doing something" about the problem.
This promotional video
(advertising products which are no longer for sale) shows the potential
of using adsorbants to clean up oil spills:
carbon  may be an effective adsorbant, and is fairly inexpensive to
manufacture. It can be made from a wide variety of agricultural
byproducts such as coconut
shells  or corn
(Indeed, the corn cob clean up technique discussed
above probably relies upon corn cobs which have been activated so that they are
more adsorbant ).
Finally, hair adsorbs oil. As Nasa wrote  in
Researchers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville are
testing an Alabama hairdresser's hair-raising technique
of using human hair to soak up oil spills. This could
lead to a number of applications, including reducing
landfill waste, saving costs in oil spill cleanups and
recovering spilled oil for fuel.
hairdresser Phillip McCrory was watching television
coverage of 1989's oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. He
saw the oil-saturated fur of a sea otter and asked himself,
"If animal fur can trap and hold spilled oil, why can't
human hair?" He conducted a home experiment using five
pounds of human hair he had cut, collected and stuffed
into a pair of his wife's pantyhose tied into a ring. He
filled his son's wading pool with water, put the
hair-filled hosiery ring into the center of the pool and poured
used motor oil into the middle.
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, allowing for easy recovery and reuse of the oil
by simply squeezing it from the collection bundles.
McCrory researched and made sure his solution was unique. He found
patents similar to his idea that involved using sheep's
wool and duck feathers for in-demand items such as
clothing and insulation, but they do not adsorb as well
as human hair.
"Human hair thousands of years old
has been found in landfills, and tons of human hair cut
every day are tossed into landfills," McCrory said.
Using the hair to clean up oil spills would both put it
to work and reduce the amount of waste material going into landfills,
he believes. Oil-saturated bundles of hair can be burned
as fuel, and the energy value contained in the collection
bundles can be recovered.
Researchers at Marshall agreed to test McCrory's idea under controlled
laboratory conditions for potential use by NASA and other
U.S. government agencies. Successful preliminary field
tests also influenced Marshall's decision to test
McCrory's system further.
In an initial test, David
Glover, a chemical systems supervisor for Marshall
contractor BAMSI, Inc., filled a 55-gallon oil drum with
40 gallons of water and 15 gallons of oil. "The mixture
was filtered through nylon bags filled with hair," said Glover.
"When the water was tested after just a single pass through
McCrory's innovative filter, only 17 parts of oil per
million parts of water remained."
McCrory estimates that 25,000 pounds of hair in nylon collection
bags may be sufficient to 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.
There is also a potential cost savings in McCrory's
method. Present oil cleanup methods cost approximately
$10 to recover a gallon of oil. McCrory's system may
cost as little as $2 per gallon and offers the
additional benefit of being able to use the recovered oil for
fuel. McCrory has founded and is president of his own company,
BEPS Inc. of Madison, Alabama.
is a free and virtually unlimited resource. Human hair grows quickly,
and with close to 300 million Americans wanting to help out, a lot can
Indeed, many barbershops are already collecting hair. My
eldest daughter and her friends are also collecting hair to send to the
Gulf (I hadn't heard of the use of hair before my daughter told me
about it - and that was long before I understood the science behind it).
the bottom line is that collecting hair (or - if it is plentiful in the
local community - hay or corn cobs) - and bundling it into nylon
stockings or other sacks and putting it on the beaches and in shallow
water is probably the most realistic approach.
hair, hay or corn can then be taken out of the sacks and then carefully
burned as a fuel or heating source, or reprocessed for oil by an oil
Note 1: Most government agencies still
don't know  about the science behind adsorption. Your local
community will have to educate them. Start by sending them the Nasa
2: There is some anecdotal evidence that oyster mushrooms can
detoxify oil after it is removed from the ocean. As the San Francisco
Chronicle notes 
regarding the clean-up of a 2007 oil spill in the San Francisco Bay
Once the mats are soaked with black gunk, oyster mushrooms will take
over, growing on the mats and absorbing the oil.
expert Paul Stamets was in town the weekend after the spill for the
Green Festival, heard of Gautier's work and donated $10,000 worth of
oyster mushrooms to harvest on the oily hair mats.
the mushrooms will absorb the oil within 12 weeks, Gautier said, turning
the hair mats into nontoxic compost.
"You make it like a
lasagna," Gautier said. "You layer the oily hair mats with mushrooms and
straw, turn it in six weeks, and by 12 weeks you have good soil."
soil may not be good enough to grow carrots but is certainly good
enough to use for landscaping along roads, she said.