More Popcorn Lung Lawsuits to Get Underway

More lawsuits are being prepared for trial on behalf of people sickened with <"">Popcorn Lung, a disorder linked to a chemical involved in the manufacture of microwave popcorn and other butter-flavored foods. The Joplin Globe just reported that the second round of lawsuits has been reduced to 11 plaintiffs, with trial dates expected next year.

Originally, said the Joplin Globe, 44 plaintiffs were part of the original lawsuits filed in 2006 in the Jasper County Circuit Court against manufacturers of the butter flavorings at the Jasper Popcorn Co. plant (operating as Gilster Mary Lee Corp. since 1999). The butter flavorings contain a chemical called diacetyl, which has been linked to the very dangerous, and sometimes fatal, lung disease commonly referred to as Popcorn Lung and clinically known as bronchiolitis obliterans.

Original defendants included the flavoring makers International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. (IFF), Bush Boake Allen (BBA), and Givaudan Flavors, as well as Aldrich Chemical Co. and Sigma-Aldrich Inc., which supplied IFF and BBA with acetaldehyde, said the Joplin Globe. Acetaldehyde is a chemical in the buttery flavoring that allegedly increases the deadly dangers of exposure to diacetyl, explained the Joplin Globe. Aldrich Chemical and Sigma-Aldrich have been dropped as defendants from the original lawsuits.

Also, the 33 dropped plaintiffs were dismissed because of a failure to prove illness was connected to either work at, or residence near, the plant, said the Joplin Globe. None of the 44 original plaintiffs in the second round were involved in the first found of lawsuits filed against IFF and BBA and which ended in either verdicts or settlements for 43 plant workers who were employed in the 1990s, according to the Joplin Globe.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified 117 plant workers who were diagnosed with abnormal lung conditions in 2002; however, hundreds more may have been subjected to the dangerous chemical, said the Joplin Globe. Over 300 lawsuits filed have been nationwide and over 100 cases have been settled; cases included those working with popcorn and flavoring, those living near plants in which the flavorings are used, and consumers of microwave popcorn, wrote the Joplin Globe, which noted that five consumers—at least—have reported being diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans,

Bronchiolitis obliterans is a potentially life-threatening, irreversible ailment, for which the only cure is a lung transplant. Popcorn Lung inflames the bronchioles—small lung airways—causing scarring and “obliterating” appropriate airflow.

Since the link between diacetyl and Popcorn Lung was established, hundreds of stricken snack industry workers have filed lawsuits against flavorings manufacturers. Some of the larger microwave popcorn manufacturers, such as ConAgra, have stopped using diacetyl; however, the chemical continues to be used in thousands of products, including microwave popcorn, frozen foods, cake mixes and butter-flavored cooking oils. Unfortunately, it is not often listed on ingredient labels, so there is no way for consumers to protect themselves from exposure.

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