Popcorn Lung Lawsuit Settled

The first consumer lawsuit over <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/popcorn_workers_lung">Popcorn Lung Disease—bronchiolitis obliterans—has been 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.

In March we wrote that a jury ruled in favor of a plaintiff in a Popcorn Workers Lung Lawsuit. In that case, the Associated Press (AP) wrote that a federal jury in Iowa ordered a flavorings manufacturer to pay the victim—who died the day prior due to complications from Popcorn Workers Lung—and his wife $7.5 million for causing his injuries.

Popcorn Lung is a potentially life-threatening ailment, for which the only cure is a lung transplant. The disease has been linked to inhalation of diacetyl, a chemical used to give 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.

Bronchiolitis obliterans inflames the bronchioles—small lung airways—causing scarring and “obliterating” appropriate airflow, explained EMaxHealth.

Based on hospital testing, said EMaxHealth, Wayne Watson, the Colorado man involved in this settlement, is said to have inhaled 0.5 and 3 parts per million diacetyl in from the microwave vent in his kitchen.

In 2003 and 2004, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health NIOSH) found an association between diacetyl and the development of Popcorn Workers Lung among hundreds of workers at six Midwestern popcorn factories. In April 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that workers at food flavoring factories, as well as popcorn plants, were at risk for the disease.

Since the link between diacetyl and Popcorn Workers Lung was established, hundreds of stricken workers have filed lawsuits against flavorings manufacturers. According to the AP, 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) has approved the chemical as a food flavoring saying that in small amounts, it poses no risk to human health.

According to the OSHA website, 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.

Diacetyl is easily vaporized at temperatures used in microwave popcorn production, which results in high concentrations in the workplace. Prior NIOSH research examined the acute toxicity of inhaled diacetyl in rats, and compared different exposure patterns. It was one of the very first studies to evaluate the respiratory toxicity of the chemical flavoring agent at levels relevant to human health. The researchers found that diacetyl — including just its vapors — can injure lungs.

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