Southern Oregon University student Charlie Chao shows off his recently shaved head in the school's Ecology Center of the Siskiyous. He donated his hair to an organization making booms to help clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but experts are questioning the effectiveness of hair booms. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Hair boom a bust or a good idea?

Charlie Chao rubbed his shiny pate and questioned the oil industry's assertion that the tons of hair he and others have donated from around the country might not be effective at soaking up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Both the government and BP have found the hair booms far less effective than commercial booms, according to The Associated Press.

Chao, 27, and his colleagues in the Ecology Center of the Siskiyous at Southern Oregon University are skeptical about information from the government and the oil company that caused the spill.

They think the hair booms, made of hair and other fibers stuffed into nylon stockings, could be useful along beaches and near homes.

"Even if it's not commercially viable, it could be used on a small scale," Chao said.

Another Ecology Center student, Jayla Ardelean, 20, said, "You have to be skeptical about everything."

She said the Ecology Center has sent off bags of hair from students. "We had a bunch of guys who shaved their heads," she said. The center, working with Oregon State Public Research Interest Group, held a Hair Fur Gulf collection day Thursday at the university.

Both the U.S. Coast Guard and BP say they are not going to use the hair booms, relying instead on booms specifically designed to soak up oil and repel water.

The Coast Guard is worried the hair booms could create more debris in the Gulf.

The hair-for-oil effort was organized by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Matter of Trust.

BP engineers said they concluded that using the hair was not feasible, and the organizations collecting the hair were asked to stop making the booms.

On its website, Matter of Trust states there is enough hair in warehouses or on its way to warehouses should the booms be needed. The organization asks that people keep a box of hair ready to be shipped out in case the need changes.

The organization still asks for more nylons and funding.

Carys Wilkins, also with the Ecology Center, showed a bag full of hair collected from students. Another load was shipped off recently, but may end up in a warehouse if it's not going to be used, said the 22-year-old.

Like other students, she is skeptical of reports about the hair booms, but wanted additional information.

"I think we are going to continue to look into whether it is effective or not," Wilkins said.

She said the idea of donating hair toward the cleanup effort helped boost awareness on campus and was a call to action.

Jessica Vineyard, owner of The Phoenix Day Spa & Salon, said the reaction from BP and the government indicates they don't understand how they can be used.

"Clearly, what they are doing now isn't working," she said. "They can't shut down the entrepreneurial spirit of trying."

Vineyard, who has shipped off boxes of hair, said hair is a natural absorbent. She thinks the hair booms could be useful in many situations along the Gulf Coast.

People who donate hair and nylons should be applauded for their efforts.

"It means to me that we are trying to do things, and not just looking at the headlines," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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