Hair booms an admirable urge, but time to stop

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The willingness of the American people to help out in an emergency is legendary.

So it is impossible to fault the enthusiasm of folks here and across the U.S. who collected human hair and pet fur to be used sopping up oil on the Gulf Coast.

Yet, at some point, they need to face the fact that it was a seemingly good idea that just didn’t work.

A Lewiston hairdresser recently told the Sun Journal that she just shipped 50 pounds of hair off for use in the oil spill cleanup and plans to continue collecting more.

“I don’t see why we’d ever stop collecting hair,” she said, “because we’ll still need it for years and years to come.”

The reason to stop is, however, now obvious: Neither the U.S. Coast Guard, British Petroleum nor cleanup engineers say the hair booms work.

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Tests show they absorb as much water as oil and then sink, creating more problems than answers.

Synthetic booms, meanwhile, repel the water and soak up oil, and officials say there is no shortage of those devices.

Misty Edwards, the local hairdresser, isn’t taking that news well. “It was really, really discouraging,” she told the Sun Journal. “It was like a slap in the face to all the people who gave their time to save their hair, and their money to send it out.”

We agree with the first part, the news is disappointing and discouraging. These folks are to be admired for their willingness to get involved.

But we disagree with her “slap-in-the-face” assertion. Neither BP nor the Coast Guard asked anyone to send hair. The effort began with one California hairdresser and spread like wildfire.

Turning something useless into something useful always feels good, particularly when it’s for a good cause.

This is a familiar effect in any disaster. Shortly after the Haitian earthquake, people began sending their old pup tents and sleeping bags to the disaster area.

Great intention; wrong action. Much of the donated stuff just became a logistical distraction in the disaster response.

Likewise the hair collection.

When the experts say it won’t work and beg people to stop, it’s time to listen.

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