Helping With the Gulf Oil Spill

  • Kirsten Novotny gives Julie Blackhall a trim at Fran Coy's Salon and Spa in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The owners collect hair trimmings to send to the Gulf. (Photo by Suzy Vuljevic).

Oil continues to gush into the Gulf… so what can we do about it?

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

Many of us have watched the coverage of the BP Oil Spill unfold, and we wondered, what can we do to help? Tanya Ott reports that some people are traveling to the Gulf region, but others are trying to come up with ways to help right here in Michigan.

Contact the Unified Command for the Gulf Oil Spill

Volunteer in Louisiana

Volunteer in Mississippi

Volunteer in Florida

Volunteer in Alabama


Wendy Spencer is a busy woman, so busy we had to catch her between meetings, in a hallway, on her cell phone. Spencer is CEO of Volunteer Florida, the Sunshine State’s official volunteer recruitment program. She’s registered thousands of volunteers to spend their Florida vacations picking up trash.

“When oil hits it will be easier to clean the shoreline if it is free of litter and debris.”

So far, 3,000 volunteers have logged more than 17,000 hours of work in Florida alone, and there are countless more in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, but what if you can’t jet down to the Gulf Coast?

Well, some people are coming up with a few creative ideas like getting a shampoo, cut and style.

John Coy owns Fran Coy’s Salon Spa in Ann Arbor. He says when he looks at the cutting room floor, he sees opportunity.

“Right now we just have this one bag of around 30 pounds of hair stored up to go, and you can see it just has inside it all different colors of hair,and you can see there’s just all different types of hair of different lengths and colors.”

Coy ships the hair to a San Francisco-based non-profit environmental group called Matter of Trust. The group sends the hair to warehouses in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, where it’s stuffed into donated pantyhose. Some people are calling them “hair sausages.” The official term is “booms.” The homemade booms are put in the water to soak up oil and keep it from shore. Fran Coy’s Salon Spa has donated 100 pounds of hair to the effort, and customers say they’re happy to help. Julie Blackhall is getting her haircut today.

“I think it’s great. I mean I’m not going to do anything with my hair that you cut off. Why not help the world with it?”

The response has been overwhelming. So far, nearly half a million pounds of human hair and animal fur have been donated nationwide. So much, Matter of Trust’s warehouses are overwhelmed and they’re not accepting any new donations.

There is some concern it won’t all get used. Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say these hair booms can get water logged and sink, and a Coast Guard spokesman told the Huffington Post the booms can add to the debris problem when they wash up on shore.

Still, some towns and counties along the Gulf Coast are willing to take the chance, and will continue to use these hair booms.

The BP oil spill isn’t just an environmental crisis. It’s an economic one too. Thousands of coastal families have lost work because fishing boats aren’t fishing and tourists aren’t visiting.

Wendy Spencer of Volunteer Florida says it’s only going to get worse.

“Our food banks are being impacted by people who are out of work. We are seeing an increase in the applications for food stamps. Go to your local food bank. Say, look, can we provide some help in collecting food and connect with the food banks in Florida or Alabama and have this shipped in to the region to help?”

And, she says, don’t forget money. It might not be as hands-on as getting a haircut. But, she says, Gulf-based social service and environmental organizations could really use the cash right now. For the Environment Report, I’m Tanya Ott.