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Santa Monica College cosmetology students watch as student Jennifer Greenlee (left) gets her hair cut by teacher-in-training Diane Becker at the cosmetology center on campus. Hair and stockings are being collected by the cosmetology department to create sponges to help out the oil spills in the Gulf by soaking up the oil. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SMC — These days, when you get your hair cut at Santa Monica College’s student-staffed salon you’re not just saving money and helping stylists-in-training hone their skills.

You’re also donating to the effort to cleanup the massive BP oil spill underway in the Gulf of Mexico.

Under the direction of Cosmetology Department Chair Helen LeDonne, SMC is collecting human hair from its hair cutting classes and its 90-chair salon to send to the organization Matter of Trust, which is stockpiling fur, fleece and human hair to be used in homemade, oil-sopping “booms” — pantyhose stuffed with hair or fur that act as giant sponges.

Lisa Gautier, Matter of Trust’s president, said human hair and animal fur are among the best materials for sopping up oil. The materials are renewable, and unlike synthetic products also used to cleanup oil spills, biodegrade after use.

Matter of Trust, a San Francisco-based non-profit, has seen a dramatic spike in hair donations since the BP disaster in the Gulf and now has 19 donated warehouses in the region filing up with human hair, alpaca and llama fur and feathers sent in from around the country, Gautier said.

Hundreds of volunteers have been working to make the booms, preparing for when oil from the broken pipe inevitably reaches shore.

So far, though, Gautier said she’s still waiting for officials involved with the cleanup to accept Matter of Trust’s booms. BP initially indicated it would accept the booms but has changed its position and hasn’t yet used any of the donated hair to sop up oil, she said.

Still, Gautier said she still encourages individuals and groups to sign up to donate and expects the hair to go to good use at some point in the near future.

“It’s immediately available to any official who has a hazardous waste disposal plan,” she said.

The oil spill, which is now the largest in U.S. history, resulted from an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform that killed 11 people and unleashed a leak that has spouted as many as 800,000 gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.

On Thursday, BP officials announced progress in a plan to lower a cap onto the leak intended to stem the flow of oil into the ocean.

At SMC, LeDonne is also soliciting pantyhose donations and said she expects to send the school’s first shipment to the Gulf within the next two weeks.

“I think that everyone should be involved in helping to make this earth a better place,” she said. “I think we’ve done so much to destroy it, we need to reverse it and you’re never too old or too young.”

nickt@smdp.com

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