Human Hair Is a Surprising Secret Weapon for Cleaning Up Oil Spills


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There’s a good chance that in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be able to clean up oil spills on land by utilizing human and canine hair. You must have seen what the stylist does with the hair that the barber cuts off each of us when we have our hair cut at the barbershop. Either they are carted away to be fashioned into wigs for people who need them or washed out to make room for new growth.


A school of thought suggests that human hair cut off at salons and thrown away might be an effective weapon in the battle against the contamination of marine environments. Despite this, scientists have only recently identified a novel use for human hair that may be of service to the natural world. How? Now, according to the results of several specialists, the hair that you shave from your head may be able to assist in the cleaning of oil spills that occur in oceans.


The first stages of research into the possible advantages of utilizing hair to clean up oil spills are still in the early stages. The coat has only been subjected to a limited number of trials in which it was modified before being used, such as by grinding it up or changing its structure in any other way. During the oil spill BP created in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, many environmental groups tested using hair booms. Still, they did not do any research in a laboratory setting.


The amount of oil our hair can absorb efficiently is the factor that will determine whether or not the riddle can be solved. Products from fur and hair, which were acquired from dog groomers and hairdressers, may be just as successful as synthetic alternatives when cleaning up crude oil spills on land, according to the findings of recent research by the University of Technology in Sydney (UTS).


Making mats out of dog fur and human hair was the first step in the group’s process of developing their own sustainable felted prototypes. After that, crude oil was used to simulate an oil spill on three types of land surfaces: sand, semi-porous surfaces, and hard surfaces that were not porous. They compared the effectiveness of their oil-absorption capabilities to those of two products already on the market: a fabric composed of plastic (propylene), and loose peat moss.


It was found that the treatments that were less costly and more biodegradable (such as dog fur and human hair) were more successful in cleaning up spills. The results favor the creation of alternatives that are less harmful to the environment shortly. Dog fur, in particular, was found to be surprisingly effective at oil spill clean-up, and felted mats made from human hair and fur were very easy to apply and remove from the spills, according to Megan Murray, an environmental scientist at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) and the principal author of the study. This is the first time that materials with natural origins have been studied for land-based oil spills.


“Land managers, responsible for cleaning up oil spilled from cars, storage tanks, or pipes that hold oil, will find this particularly intriguing. These land conditions are susceptible to effective treatment using sorbents generated from environmentally friendly sources in every instance, “She continues.


When oil spills happen on land, the natural environment and the communities nearby are both in danger for the long term due to the damage done. The contaminants in the oil are harmful to the soil, and there is a possibility that they may also poison the groundwater underneath. This indicates that the effects of the tragedy will continue to be felt for a significant amount of time after the initial calamity.

At present, synthetic sorbent materials are employed for the most part to absorb oil that has been spilled on hard surfaces such as pavements, roads, and concreted areas. This is because these characters are better able to hold onto the sorbent material than natural materials. However, these materials are expensive and produce a significant amount of waste that is composed of a kind of plastic that does not biodegrade. Additionally, the waste created is an eyesore. Given the yearly creation of over 8 million metric tons of rubbish composed of plastic, of which very little is recycled, it is vital that alternatives that are biodegradable be identified.

What effects may something like this have in the years to come?

At this time, peat moss is the most common kind of biodegradable material employed in cleaning up oil spills. They were found in Norway. A little more than a decade ago, researchers in Norway discovered that the chemical was an effective instrument for cleaning up oil on land and in water. Their research was subsequently featured in an issue of the journal Science.


Peat moss, both natural and kind to the environment, has been developed to remove oil from land and water. However, Murray’s group does not advocate for its users anymore since it is inefficient on the ground and because the collection of peat moss is harmful to the habitats in which it is located.


According to Murray, “We discovered that loose peat moss is not as good at cleaning up oil spills on land compared to other products made from dog fur and hair, and it is of no value at all for areas that are sandy.”


“Based on the findings of this investigation, we strongly recommend that peat moss should no longer be used for this particular purpose. We feel that this discovery is of the most significant relevance since peat moss is a limited resource, and its harvest requires the devastation of wetland habitats. In light of these two facts, we believe this finding should be given the highest priority, “She says.


A plastic material called polypropylene is often used to clean up oil spills that have occurred in environments that include water. However, at the beginning of this year, researchers developed a groundbreaking technology that can turn regular sponges into hydrophobic instant oil magnets. This makes them the perfect tool for cleaning up spills as soon as they occur since they repel water.


Even though her team concluded that plastic textiles were preferable for sandy places, such as coastal beaches, this successful study implies that more research into organic and sustainable sorbents will be carried out.


The fur and hair-felted mats in other environmental conservation activities, such as stabilizing river banks and removing pollutants from flowing rivers, may also be investigated as part of the testing process.

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