Business, Economics and Jobs

Off-Beat ideas for cleaning the oil spill


(image by Flickr user U.S. Army Environmental Command (cc:by))

This story was originally covered by PRI's The Takeaway. 

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Some of the smartest minds in the world have been thinking about how to stop the BP oil spill from ruining the gulf coast. There's even a number that people can call if they think they have a better idea:

(281) 366-5511

Callers to that number are met by a live operator from the BP Horizon response line, ready to hear new ideas on how to mitigate the disaster occurring in the Gulf Coast. The company has already received some 74,000 calls and 19,000 emails with new ideas.

One off-beat effort is already underway to use human hair, animal hair, and defective nylons or tights to clean the oil. Hair naturally collects oil, and so the nonprofit Matter of Trust has been trying to collect millions of pounds of hair from hair salons, individuals, pets, and commercial operations like Alpaca farms. The hair will be stuffed into tights and used to mop up any oil that washes up on shore. "The whole community is behind the project," one volunteer told "The World Technology" podcast. People are shaving their dogs, and sometimes their own heads, to help the cleanup effort.

Other ideas have included using peat moss, naturally occurring bacteria, and even a nuclear bomb to stop the oil from spreading.

''There's so many ideas you become numb to them,'' Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Steve Carleton told the New York Times. He added that 15 times every day, he is sent a YouTube video of a man using hay to sop up oil. (You can see that video below.)

"During a crisis it is, in my opinion, a very poor time to vet a new technology, because they are overwhelmed," according to Connie Mixon, CEO of MyCelx, a company that makes oil removal technology. Her company has called and emailed BP, but to no avail. Mixon believes that many of the spill response companies want to use and profit from their own technology, rather than using a newer, possibly more effective one.

"There seems to be a bottleneck on every front," New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson told The Takeaway. Nearly everyone on the Gulf Coast is a stakeholder in the cleanup process, but a very small group of people is actually making the decisions.

The phone number for BP let's people voice their ideas, but there's no guarantee that their voices will actually be heard.


"The Takeaway" is a national morning news program, delivering the news and analysis you need to catch up, start your day, and prepare for what's ahead. The show is a co-production of WNYC and PRI, in editorial collaboration with the BBC, The New York Times Radio, and WGBH. More at