A charitable endeavor taking off in Minnesota gives new meaning to the term "greasy hair.''
Nearly 200 hair salons and pet groomers are collecting their customers' hair -- or fur -- and shipping it to warehouses along the Gulf Coast. There, it's being stuffed into mesh booms that are slated to be dropped along beaches to absorb the ever-spreading oil slick from an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
Thousands of hairdressers across the country are participating in this campaign-gone-viral launched by a San Francisco-based nonprofit called Matter of Trust. Minnesota, as usual, is one of the states with the highest number of participants, ranging from the upscale Aveda salons to exotic pet groomers such as "Dreadlocks for Dingoes.''
"We're filling up our first box right now,'' said Kassie Kuehl, owner of the Kasia Organic Salon in Minneapolis, as she clipped a thick head of red hair.
"We have nothing else to do with the hair, so we may as well put it to good use.''
Kuehl, like other stylists now diligently sweeping the locks under their chairs, learned about the project through e-mails from Matter of Trust. The nonprofit is well known among the environmentally active sector of the hair salon industry, said Evan Miller, spokesperson for the Blaine-based Aveda Corp.
Matter of Trust has been making mesh booms for a decade, touting what program leaders say is human hair's special ability to quickly and efficiently soak up large amounts of oil.
Aveda's 3,500 salons have donated hair for earlier collections, according to Katie Galloway, director of Aveda's corporate giving. After the April 20 BP disaster, Galloway said, she went online to see what the organization was up to.
"I saw they had all these collection points along the Gulf Coast, so I sent a message to our salons and asked them to send their clippings there,'' she said.
So far, 192 salons and groomers in Minnesota have signed on as donors, said Tyler Young, a volunteer at Matter of Trust. The small nonprofit has burst into the public spotlight with its hair-raising campaign, drawing support from as far away as Canada and Australia.
"Our voice mail fills up every few minutes,'' Young said.
But the hair booms -- which look like giant sausages -- have never been up against nearly 4 million gallons of oil. No one is under the illusion they will stop the oil slick. But Minnesota donors say its feels better to do something small than do nothing at all.
At Dreadlocks for Dingoes in south Minneapolis this week, Lisa Rojas stood over a table grooming a black terrier, the snippets of wavy hair gathering at her feet. When she finished, she vacuumed the fur into a large red vacuum cleaner that has become her fur storage area.
"There's 50 dogs' worth of hair in there,'' Rojas said.
Rojas said she's been donating fur from her Minneapolis grooming business to Matter of Trust for years.
On Tuesday, Rojas emptied her vacuum cleaner, stuffed the fur into a plastic bag and shipped it to one of the warehouses collecting the stuff.
In addition, she sent out e-mails to her customers and friends, asking them to donate panty hose and nylon stockings, which are stuffed with hair to create the booms.
All this happens at warehouses along the Gulf Coast, where Matter of Trust has organized stocking stuffer parties -- dubbed "Boom-BQs."
It's unclear how many of the booms have been used and where. Although not part of the official cleanup effort, some local volunteers have vowed to deploy the hair-filled mats on their own. On the national level, the website of Lisa Gautier, the president of Matter of Trust, informs readers that the group has been so swamped with calls that "Our phones are blowing out.''
The fate of any oil-drenched booms also is unclear.
"I'm not sure what they do with the booms after they've absorbed the oil,'' Rojas said. "But at least the oil is out of the water.''
Waste oil from spills is commonly burned. Matter of Trust has been experimenting with ways to get rid of the oily hair in an environmentally friendly way, according to its website. One experiment involved detoxifying the hair and using earthworms to decompose it. Another involved tapping the power of mushrooms and fungus to clean it.
But Gautier has said that it would be BP's responsibility to collect them as part of the cleanup.
The Minnesotans participating in this campaign say the effort is double eco-friendly. It offers a place, other than a landfill, for the mountains of hair clippings they produce each week.
"After the oil spill, you just want to help,'' Koehl said. "This is a great idea.''
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511