Shaving the environment
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo employs a unique tactic to soak up an oil spill off the coast of the Philippines.
By Abrahm Lustgarten, Fortune reporter

(Fortune Magazine) -- Muntinlupa, Philippines--Faced with the worst oil spill in Philippine history after a tanker sank off the coast of Guimaras Aug. 11, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo made an unusual plea for human hair. Salons across the archipelago pitched in. As did these prisoners at a maximum-security ward south of Manila, who may not have had much choice in the matter. The hair was bagged and strung from bamboo poles to help soak up some of the 50,000 barrels of oil that had leaked from the Solar 1 and washed ashore in an area that depends on fishing and ecotourism. A layer of sludge, a meter thick in some places, coated 150 miles of beaches, mangrove swamps, and coral reefs. "It will be years before this is cleaned up," says a spokesperson at the Philippine embassy in Washington, D.C. "It's our Exxon Valdez." The ship, which went down in a storm, was carrying 500,000 gallons of fuel oil belonging to Petron, the Philippine oil company that is 40% owned by the government and 40% owned by a subsidiary of Saudi Aramco. Fuel oil continued to leak for weeks from the ship, which sank in 2,000 feet of water and couldn't be easily reached. A Japanese salvage ship equipped with a remote-control mini-submarine was dispatched to the area -- a technological leap beyond bags of hair.  Top of page