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Coast Guard may not want hair booms, but Holiday woman keeps working

HOLIDAY

They wanted to help, to do something to stop all that oil from caking the coast.

So hundreds of people cut their ponytails and combed their cats, shaved their dogs and sheared their sheep and stuffed boxes and garbage bags full of thick, absorbent hair.

Some shipped their clippings to San Francisco to a nonprofit group called Matter of Trust that promised to pack the hair into panty hose and make booms to soak up the oil. Others sent hair to warehouses in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

And dozens of folks mailed their manes to a little blue bungalow near the water in Holiday, where fishing nets and floats cling to a weathered awning. There, a woman with long, black hair rocks on a faded porch swing, surrounded by a mountain of trash bags filled with hair.

In the past month, Princess Obriot, 43, has collected more than four truckloads of animal and human hair. She and volunteers from the beach cleanup group Make Mine Bluegreen drove to more than 32 hair salons across Pasco County, picking up clippings. Her garage, her shed, even her office is filled with bags of hair stacked head-high.

"They told us it would make a big difference," Obriot said Tuesday. "So of course we had to try."

But last weekend, the Coast Guard — and BP — said they don't want hair booms. They're not going to use them. Volunteers, they said, should stop stuffing stockings.

"We foresee a risk that widespread deployment of the hair boom could exacerbate the debris problem," Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Shawn Eggert told the Associated Press.

Hair booms can sink, engineers said. Booms made of synthetic materials soak up more oil. BP spokesman Mark Salt said his company is using something called a sorbent boom, which attracts oil but repels water. There is "no need" he said, "to consider the need for alternative products."

So what do you do with a house full of unwanted hair?

• • •

Dog fur sticks to the sweat on Obriot's arms and shoulders, coats her chest, clogs her nose. Every time she stuffs another handful into the stocking, tufts fly in her face. "It wouldn't be so bad," she said, "if it didn't itch."

Then she reached up and raked a hair off her tongue.

She doesn't believe the Coast Guard or engineers or BP. She's convinced the hair booms will work — as long as they're used right.

Don't drop them in deep water, she said, where the oil is bubbling up from the bottom. Set them on shorelines, to soak up what's on top. Collect that sludge before it comes into the coves and marshes, killing the coast.

"It's insulting," Obriot said of the hair boom ban. "Everything they have tried has failed incredibly. Here, this is free and environmentally friendly. Why not at least see if it works?"

You can wring out hair booms, she said, collect the oil and reuse the stocking. When you're done, burn the booms. No need to build up landfills.

Though officials told her to stop packing panty hose days ago, Obriot is working harder than ever, collecting clippings, building booms. She planned on getting hair from another 40 salons this week. And every day the mailman brings another box of fur.

"I'd like to be able to fill two U hauls with our booms," she said. "With that, we could maybe save one island."

She isn't going to try to plant the booms illegally. "We're not out to do some kind of vigilante cleanup," she said. "But we know there's a use for this, so we have to keep trying."

She hopes Coast Guard officials will soon come to their senses and want her homemade hair pieces. And if the oil floats to Florida, maybe local officials will make use of her booms. Whenever someone is ready, the stockings will be, too.

Times staff writer Drew Harwell and Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, which also includes information from the Associated Press. Lane DeGregory can be reached at degregory@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8825.

Princess Obriot fills a boom with human and animal hair at her Holiday home Tuesday. In addition to bags upon bags of hair, Obriot is storing rags, soap, brushes and other donated supplies she hopes will be used for coastal cleanup from the oil spill.

KERI WIGINTON | Times

Princess Obriot fills a boom with human and animal hair at her Holiday home Tuesday. In addition to bags upon bags of hair, Obriot is storing rags, soap, brushes and other donated supplies she hopes will be used for coastal cleanup from the oil spill.

On the Web

To see Princess Obriot build hair booms to help pick up the oil in the Gulf, go to video.tampabay.com.

Want to get involved?

For more on how to help, go to makeminebluegreen.org.

Coast Guard may not want hair booms, but Holiday woman keeps working 05/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 9:20am]

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