If, as many now predict, BP’s Tony Hayward is removed as CEO of the giant British oil company, the moment that assured his demise may well be remembered as the time when he blamed foodborne illness for making cleanup workers sick.

That’s even though the very symptoms suffered by ill workers combating the BP oil spill spoiling the Gulf Coast are the very kind users of Corexit 9500 are warned about.  That’s the BP chemical dispersant of choice.

Last week workers who were out on the water returned with headaches, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

Hayward, who is not a medical doctor, offered this explanation for the illnesses: “I’m sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it had anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning, or some other reason for them being ill.

“You know, there’s a–food poisoning is a really big issue when you’ve got a concentration of this many people in ten pre-cabs, ten pre-accommodations. It’s something we have to be very, very mindful of. It’s one of the big issues of keeping the army operating. Armies march on their stomachs.”

Since the concentrations of workers on land and their accommodations and meals are presumably also the responsibility of BP, Hayward seemed willing to take responsibility for poisoning his people on land but not gassing them at sea.

But most food poisoning experts do not see symptoms like nosebleeds and breathing difficulties as consistent with the pathogens they treat, which cause illnesses after incubation periods that can run up to several days.

“These do not sound like the symptoms my clients typically suffer, ” said nationally-known food safety attorney Bill Marler.   “It’s not that I wouldn’t mind suing BP.”

BP is said to be declining suggestions that it equip workers with a breathing apparatus or gas masks when they are out skimming oil or doing other cleanup tasks.  That would appear to run counter to the Material Safety Data Sheet published by Nalco Energy Systems, which makes Corexit 9500.  It recommends:

“Where concentrations in air may exceed the limits given in this section, the use of a half face filter mask or air supplied breathing apparatus is recommended. A suitable filter material depends on the amount and type of chemicals being handled. Consider the use of filter type: Multi-contaminant cartridge, with a Particulate pre-filter.

“In event of emergency or planned entry into unknown concentrations a positive pressure, full-face piece SCBA should be used. If respiratory protection is required, institute a complete respiratory protection program including selection, fit testing, training, maintenance and inspection.”

The downside of the chemical dispersant has also come up in a debate that is occurring between BP and independent Gulf scientists from area universities.

The university research teams have identified miles-long underwater “plumes” of oil that may not have risen to the surface because of the chemical BP is using.

BP says the plumes do not exist.