Disasters & Accidents

Peruvians donating hair to assist with oil spill clean-up

By Carla Samon Ros

Lima, Jan 26 (EFE).- Peruvians are donating their own hair to a Pacific Ocean clean-up effort after 6,000 barrels of crude were spilled earlier this month at a refinery owned by Spanish oil company Repsol.

Non-governmental organizations, salon chains and even regional and municipal administrations have launched social media campaigns over the past week aimed at collecting hair donations.

Proponents of the initiative say the goal is to fill up large sausage-shaped booms with hair to absorb the crude that spilled on Jan. 15 in waters north of Lima.

That spill – blamed on freak waves from a tsunami-triggering volcanic eruption near Tonga that rocked a tanker as it was unloading at Repsol’s La Pampilla refinery – has already affected more than 20 beaches, three natural reserves and 713 hectares (2.75 square miles) of ocean.

It has been called the worst ecological disaster around the Peruvian capital in recent history.

“We want to be proactive in mitigating the pollution and containing it so it doesn’t spread farther,” Nicole Castillo, co-founder of “Hair Boom Peru,” one of the most viral movements associated with this initiative, told Efe.

Hair Boom Peru was launched with the goal of setting up a handful of human and dog hair collection points in different parts of Lima, but the response was so enthusiastic that the project was extended to dozens of cities along the coast and even to highland and Amazon towns.

Roughly 750 kilos (1,650 pounds) of alpaca fleece also were among the donations received.

Castillo, an environmental engineering student, said the project is aimed at spurring greater use of a sustainable methodology that is already employed around the world, most recently in the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius in mid-2020.

“At the end of the day, it’s to support the technical groups so they continue their scientific research and determine the best way to dispose of (that oil clean-up material),” she said.

The Metropolitan Municipality of Lima also carried out a campaign last weekend that succeeded in collecting 30 kilos of hair from around 470 capital residents.

The local government’s deputy environmental stewardship manager, Susana Sevilla, told Efe those donations were made to Bio Ambientalistas Peru, a collective tasked with creating prototypes of mesh-covered booms stuffed with hair and conducting tests with a view to promoting the use of this technique on a larger scale.

Nevertheless, concerns have been raised about a lack of studies on the efficacy of the different hair types and how long the prototypes can absorb oil before reaching their maximum capacity, environmental engineer Saul Vargas Zurita, a former adviser to the Peruvian navy and member of Hair Boom Peru, told Efe.

Questions also surround the final disposal of the booms, which will need to be treated as toxic waste at a specialized landfill site.

Jenny Zenobio, who holds a doctorate degree in ecotoxicology and environmental chemistry, says this material can either be safely disposed of in a hydrocarbon landfill, biodegraded or incinerated.

Whichever option is chosen, experienced professionals must carry out the work to avoid further spreading the pollution or generating new contaminants.

Amid these concerns and the large-scale donations, the Environment Ministry said Monday that under the current circumstances the hair booms are not a very effective tool.

“Large-scale solutions are needed (barriers, skimmers and other clean-up equipment) from Repsol,” it said on Twitter, warning of more debris in the ocean.

But Vargas said there was no “scientific or technical basis” for the government’s stance.

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