Feds May Regulate Popcorn Lung Chemical

We recently wrote that the first consumer lawsuit over <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/popcorn_workers_lung">Popcorn Lung Disease—bronchiolitis obliterans—was settled between FONA International Inc., formerly Flavors of North America Inc., and a Denver Colorado man who developed the disorder after consuming two bags of microwave popcorn daily for years, said EMaxHealth previously. Now, the Dispatch is reporting that the government may begin regulating the chemical—diacetyl—that is found in microwave popcorn and that has been linked to the disease.

The Dispatch also wrote about a 46-year old woman who now has the lung function of a 90-year-old, a man who can no longer perform simple tasks, and a couple unable to do more than leave their home. According to the Dispatch, all four can no longer work at the ConAgra Foods plant from where they were previously employed and have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans; all were exposed to diacetyl. ConAgra formerly used the chemical in its production of butter-flavored microwave popcorn, said the Dispatch.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is a potentially life-threatening, irreversible ailment, for which the only cure is a lung transplant. The disease has been linked to inhalation of diacetyl, the chemical that gives microwave popcorn and other snack foods a buttery flavor. The condition received its nickname in 2007 when it was found to be occurring in popcorn plant workers, said EMaxHealth previously. Bronchiolitis obliterans inflames the bronchioles—small lung airways—causing scarring and “obliterating” appropriate airflow, explained EMaxHealth.

Since the link between diacetyl and Popcorn Workers Lung was established, hundreds of stricken workers have filed lawsuits against flavorings manufacturers.

According to the Associated Press previously, more than 300 other cases are pending around the country, and verdicts as high as $20 million have been awarded in previous cases.

Some of the larger microwave popcorn manufacturers removed diacetyl and changes in manufacturing processes have been implemented to protect factory workers from the disease; however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the chemical as a food flavoring, saying that in small amounts, it poses no risk to human health.

But diacetyl is still used to flavor foods despite that the link between the chemical and adverse health events has long been established because no federal regulation is in place. Now, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration has been under a lot of pressure from Senator Sherrod Brown (Democrat-Ohio).

“I think OSHA needs to move quickly,” said Senator Brown, quoted the Dispatch. The senator is a member of the Senate committee that oversees workplace safety. “I think that’s the most important thing—that OSHA steps in, sets the rule, moves forward, (and) enforces it to make sure workers are protected,” Senator Brown added. Senator Brown previously wrote to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, seeking assistance, said the Dispatch.

Recently, OSHA released its priorities for the year, which included the creation of a standard for diacetyl. According to a prior OSHA website posting, the chemical can potentially lead to “eye, mucous membrane, respiratory system, skin irritation; persistent cough, phlegm production, wheezing, dyspnea (shortness of breath); unusual fatigue;” quoted EMaxHealth, “mild fever or generalized aches, and skin rashes,” said EMaxHealth, in addition to bronchiolitis obliterans.

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