Missouri Jury Awards Former Popcorn Plant Worker $15 Million for Injuries Caused by Chemicals Used to Make Butter Flavoring

On Friday a former popcorn-plant worker was given $15 million for his claim that his exposure to butter-flavoring fumes led to severe respiratory problems.

The case was filed by Stephen McNeely a 35-year-old machine operator from Carthage, Missouri, who filled popcorn bags with salt and butter flavoring.

McNeely is one of many former workers for International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. of New York, a subsidiary of Bush Boake Allen Inc., to file lawsuits against the company. Last week’s verdict brings the total awarded in the last two years to nearly $53 million.

The plant where the plaintiffs worked, the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. microwave popcorn factory in Jasper, Missouri, has paid the employees workers’ compensation and has not been involved in the lawsuits.

McNeely worked at the Jasper plant from 1989 to 2001 and developed bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious and unusual lung disease that may require him to get a lung transplant.

McNeely’s lawyer, who also represents 30 other Jasper plant popcorn workers who have sued International Flavors and Bush Boake, had no comment on the case, saying the judge had issued a gag order. Attorneys for International Flavors could not be reached for comment.

Four other plaintiffs reached confidential settlements with the defendants last year and at least 20 more cases are awaiting trial.

Previously, newsinferno.com reported that 36-year-old former popcorn plant worker, Kenneth Moenning, who believed his respiratory illness resulted from a chemical used to make butter flavoring, sued International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. was awarded $2.7 million by a jury in July.

The plaintiffs claimed the company knew that it was using chemicals that cause lung cancer to synthesize butter flavor and did not warn workers.

Moenning, who also has bronchiolitis obliterans, worked in the plant’s flavoring room from 1993-1996 and experts testified that his lung disease resulted directly from exposure to diacetyl and other chemicals used to make butter flavor.

Defense attorneys stated that management was unaware of the danger the chemicals posed to employees. "Someone is trying to blame the defendants for something no one knew or could have known," said Mike Patton, the attorney for International Flavors and Fragrances, in his closing arguments.

The jury deliberated for seven hours. When it returned its verdict in the Jasper County Circuit Court, nine jurors (the minimum necessary) supported a $2.69 million award to Moenning and $50, 000 for his wife. Moenning had asked for $20 million, plus $5 million for his wife for emotional suffering.

While health officials claim microwave popcorn is safe, they admit the chemicals released during popping require additional study. If pre-packaged, fake-flavored foods taste too good to be true, the recent verdicts suggest they probably are.

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