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An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN

A hair-raising solution to oil spills

haircut May 28, 1998
Web posted at: 2:25 p.m. EDT (1825 GMT)

HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CNN) -- There's an old saying that one man's trash is another man's treasure. And what could be trashier than hair clippings on the floor of a beauty parlor or barber shop?

The saying proved true when one ingenious hairdresser looked at his hairy floor and didn't see a growing mess, but a solution to an environmental problem.

NASA hairball
icon 2 min. 10 sec. VXtreme video
Don McCrory, the inventor's brother
221 K / 17 sec. / 160x120

video icon QuickTime movie

Alabama hairdresser Phil McCrory got his inspiration from watching news coverage of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

"When I saw an otter in Prince William Sound, that's when a light went off," he said. "I decided that human hair should do the same things as an otter's hair."

To prove his theory, McCrory did some experiments in his back yard. He took hair cut at his salon and stuffed it into his wife's panty hose to create a sponge for oil. He then poured some oil into a wading pool, threw in the panty hose filled with hair and waited. A few minutes later he was amazed to find "nice clear water."

McCrory performs experiments in his own backyard  

Encouraged by his dramatic results, McCrory went to a nearby National Aeronautics and Space Administration facility with his idea. NASA performed more sophisticated tests to see if McCrory's oil-sucking hairballs really could make the cut.

Rebecca McCaleb of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center said the invention does in fact work.  (icon 77K/6 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

A gallon of oil will adhere to a little more than a pound of hair in just two minutes, McCrory said. Existing products can take up to 48 hours.

As an added bonus, hair can be wrung out and used again, and the oil can be recovered as well.

NASA performs more sophisticated tests
NASA performs more sophisticated tests  

McCrory's brother, Don, who's in charge of sewing together the bags of hair, said he'd never seen anything like it.

The question is whether or not there's enough hair to go around.

A spill the size of the Exxon Valdez would require about 14 million pounds of hair.

McCrory said with 200,000 hair salons in the United States, getting that much hair, or more, shouldn't be a problem.

And as McCrory points out, hair is a renewable resource that grows every day all over the world.

From Correspondent Marsha Walton


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