Nation Fights Oil Spill With Human Hair

Emergency volunteers in Mauritius are using whatever works to contain the spill
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 11, 2020 9:04 AM CDT

Facing a nightmare oil spill, people in Mauritius are cutting off their hair. Salons nationwide are offering free haircuts—and some abroad are sending in fresh locks—to help soak up roughly 2,500 tons of oil spilled by a Japanese tanker in late July, Gizmodo reports. Emergency volunteers are using the hair with old stockings, plastic bottles, and sugar cane leaves to make oil-containing booms. "Hair absorbs oil but not water," the founder of a Mauritius eco-tourism agency tells Reuters. "There's a big campaign around the island to get hair." Online videos show people sewing the booms together and floating them on the surface to gather oil, which can be sucked in with hoses.

Scientists have long suggested using hair to clean oil spills, as Science Alert reported in 2017. "Hair is a natural biosorbent," said a lecturer at Masters at the University of Technology Sydney. "It's been shown to adsorb 3-9 times its weight in oil. Your hair gets oily and greasy—the oil basically is stuck to the hair fibers. By a similar method, it would stick to other oils, such as crude oil." But the sight of fishermen and divers desperately trying to soak up an oil spill with human hair has some reporters cringing. Perhaps worse, the discovery of dead fish and oil-covered seabirds are signaling a possible ecological catastrophe. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth says the African nation is bracing itself for "a worst-case scenario." (And the leak may not be over.)

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