“Popcorn Lung” Chemical Putting Consumers at Risk

A food additive linked to an illness that has come to be called “<"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/popcorn_workers_lung">Popcorn Lung” is being reviewed by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Diacetyl has long been linked to Popcorn Lung, an irreversible lung ailment seen mostly among workers in the snack food industry. However, over the past several years, some consumers have also come down with the illness.

Popcorn Lung, known formally as 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.

In 2007, a Colorado man named Wayne Watson became the first consumer to be diagnosed with Popcorn Lung. He had never worked around diacetyl, but he did have a decade-long, 2-bag-a-day microwave popcorn habit. Watson’s doctor theorized that the inhalation of diacetyl fumes from bags of microwave popcorn caused his illness. When the chemical is heated, say in a microwave, it is released into the air in vapor form.

Because of his illness, Watson’s lung capacity has been reduced to 50 percent. Popcorn Lung has left him disabled, and even everyday activities, such as walking the stairs, are difficult for him.

According to a report on www.10tv.com, Watson’s case prompted his doctor, Cecile Rose, to send a letter to the FDA and three other government agencies, warning that diacetyl was a potential health threat not just to workers, but also to consumers. The agency said it followed up with Dr. Rose, and also assigned a team of scientists to examine scientific research into types of diacetyl exposure, according to www.10tv.com.

But so far, the FDA has not taken any regulatory action, and officially considers diacetyl safe. The agency hasn’t indicated when it will finish its diacetyl review and issue findings.

Since the link between diacetyl and Popcorn Lung was established, hundreds of stricken snack industry workers have filed lawsuits against flavorings manufacturers. According to the Associated Press, more than 300 other cases are pending around the country, and verdicts as high as $20 million have been awarded in previous cases.

Consumers stricken with the disease have also filed Popcorn Lung lawsuits. Watson did so, and according to 10tv.com, has reached a confidential settlement with one defendant, a flavor developer. Watson’s lawyer also told 10tv.com that he recently filed Popcorn Lung lawsuits on behalf of three other consumers.

Some of the larger microwave popcorn manufacturers, such as ConAgra, have stopped using diacetyl. But the chemical is still 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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