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Can Monterey Mills contain the spill?

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JAMES P. LEUTE
July 13, 2010
— BP hasn’t ordered fabric from Monterey Mills to clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but officials with the Janesville manufacturer are confident it’s a possibility.

Monterey, the largest manufacturer of knit pile fabric in the United States, has become somewhat of an Internet sensation since it posted videos demonstrating the fabric’s abilities to absorb oil.


The company’s YouTube videos have attracted more than 21,000 views in the three weeks they’ve been online. The same videos are accessible through several other sites.


Company officials made two recent trips to the Gulf region to test and demonstrate its wool fabric that absorbs oil. The product, they said, picks up and retains four or five times its weight in oil and is 100 percent biodegradable.


On the first trip at the end of June, Dan Sinykin and Brent Birkhoff jumped on a fishing boat and tested the dense fabric in oil-infested waters near Grand Isle, a barrier island about 100 miles south of New Orleans.


“We couldn’t access beaches or marshes, but the product did exactly what we thought it would do on the surface of the deeper waters,” said Sinykin, the company’s president.


After returning to Wisconsin for the Fourth of July holiday, Sinykin got a message that BP was interested in hearing about Monterey’s product. Sinykin returned to the region last week to meet with BP’s “High Interest Technology Team.”


“It was a great experience,” Sinykin said. “I flew to Pensacola and drove to Alabama to meet with them. I got a chance to see the presentation ahead of mine, and it, too, was very good.”


Sinykin said he was impressed with the BP team that has whittled more than 100,000 submitted solutions down to 150—including Monterey’s—for further investigation.


“They videotaped my presentation, asked insightful questions and really challenged me with other ideas,” he said. “They said they’d get back to me, and by the time I got to Atlanta to change planes I’d already received a message asking questions and seeking more information.


“We answered them and sent some more information, so now we’re kind of in a wait-and-see mode.”


Sinykin said BP’s team is sincerely interested in the Monterey material.


“I think we all agreed that there are certain applications for our product,” Sinykin said. “But it’s not a silver bullet to solve all of the problems. There will be many different solutions.”


Birkhoff said those solutions depend on the affected areas and whether they are sandy, marshy or in deeper water.


Testing in the waters near Grand Isle on July 1, the Monterey crew was briefly escorted out of the area while Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal held a news conference.


The crew also tried to stay out of the spotlight because federal regulations are strict about anyone cleaning up the oil.


“Basically, if you pick up the oil and a drop of it falls back into the water, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) rules say that you’ve caused a spill and are liable for the damages,” said Birkhoff, the company’s vice president of administration.


Whether Monterey’s efforts result in an order for the Janesville company is yet to be determined.


But Birkhoff and Sinykin are confident that the company’s conversation with BP is not over.


“It was definitely a worthwhile effort,” Sinykin said. “BP is obviously unhappy with what happened, and they are trying to find out how to handle it.


“I’m happy that we could contribute. Even if they deicide that there are better ways to do it, I’ll sleep well knowing we were involved.”



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