BP Denies Oil Plumes Exist; Blames Illnesses on Food Poisoning

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - BP says it has no idea how much oil remains under the broken wellhead at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, and it denied the existence of giant underwater plumes of oil. The oil company claims that if those plumes do exist, BP scientists are studying whether they should be a concern, but that the plumes are not from BP's use of chemical dispersants to sink the oil. BP officials also claimed that the nine oil cleanup workers who have been hospitalized might have contracted food poisoning; it denied the workers' claims the dispersants made them sick.
     "The oil is on the surface. There aren't any plumes," BP CEO Tony Hayward told The Associated Press.
     Marine scientists last week reported the discovery of a second giant plume, deep beneath the Gulf's surface, believed to be oil and stretching 22 miles northeast from BP's gushing wellhead. The thick mass is headed toward Mobile, Ala., where currents from an underwater canyon currents feed marine life in the waters off Florida. Scientists fear these oil clouds will create giant dead zones in the Gulf by suffocating marine life and poisoning tiny creatures at the bottom of the food chain. Some speculated that the giant underwater plumes are one result of BP's unprecedented use of chemical dispersants. BP has sprayed more than 990,000 gallons of dispersant into the Gulf of Mexico since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.
     BP CEO Hayward told CNN that the sick workers, who blamed their nausea, headaches and chest pain on the oil cleanup at the beach at Grand Isle, probably got sick from food poisoning.
     "I'm sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill," Hayward said. "You know, food poisoning is clearly a big issue when you have a concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodation. It's something we have to be very, very mindful of. It's one of the big issues of keeping the army operating. You know, armies march on their stomachs."
     West Jefferson Medical Center announced on Monday that it had set up a first aid tent on Grand Isle specifically to treat cleanup workers, and the federal government said it had sent a mobile medical unit to Venice, La.
     BP spokesman John Curry told the Times-Picayune, "We want to ensure workers' health and safety are protected, so we give them Tyvek suits, nitrile gloves, safety glasses, hard hats when working near overhead hazards, rubber boots, plus hearing protection, insect repellent, sunscreen, lip balm, personal flotation devices and steel-toe boots."
     He said that if any air-quality concerns arise, BP is prepared to give workers respirators, but so far all readings have shown no toxins.
     The Times-Picayune reported that a fisherman who was among nine cleanup workers hospitalized after complaining of chest pain and nausea on Grand Isle filed a federal complaint Sunday alleging that BP confiscated his clothes before he entered the West Jefferson Medical Center.
     As of early Tuesday morning, Courthouse News had not been able to locate that lawsuit. CNS will post a link to it as soon as it becomes available.
     "At West Jefferson, there were tents set up outside the hospital, where I was stripped of my clothing, washed with water and several showers, before I was allowed into the hospital," the fisherman, James Wunstell of Galliano, La. said in a sworn statement from his hospital bed on Saturday, according to the Times-Picayune. "When I asked for my clothing, I was told that BP had confiscated my clothing and it would not be returned."
     Also on Monday, The AP, citing an anonymous White House official, reported that President Obama planned to meet today with the co-chairman of an independent commission he formed to investigate the spill.