Very Early Steps Taken to Regulate Popcorn Lung Chemical

It’s a small step, but OSHA—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration—is finally seeking public comment on the health standard for Diacetyl, the chemical linked to the sometimes fatal disease commonly known as <"">Popcorn Lung.  OMB Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group explained that factory workers, and likely consumers—who are exposed to Diacetyl are at an increased risk for developing Popcorn Lung, known medically as Bronchiolitis obliterans.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is a serious and life-threatening disease that destroys the small airways of the lungs.  Diacetyl, a chemical that gives foods like popcorn, candy, and baked goods that creamy, buttery taste, is linked to the disease, which has attacked popcorn factory employees and was also discovered in a man who ate at least two bags of buttery microwave popcorn daily for several years and reportedly enjoyed inhaling the fumes released when the popcorn was heated.  It was found that the man’s lung problems were linked to breathing Diacetyl vapors.

The OMB reported that OSHA will publish its notice—Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking—in this Wednesday’s issue of the Federal Register.  The OMB also explained that the Advanced Notice is just that, a small part of the rulemaking process that merely describes the issue surrounding exposure to the chemical and seeks comment.  The Advanced Notice, pointed out the OMB, does not offer any sort of policy solution and outlines nearly a decade of OSHA under the Bush administration that was lax, ineffective, and rife with inaction.

In late 2007, reports abounded over how the Bush administration, some business groups, and others argued that there was insufficient evidence to warrant government limits on the dangerous chemical, despite that a federal official who testified at a congressional hearing swore under oath that Diacetyl is suspicious.  Also, the doctor who detected the trend in Bronchiolitis obliterans following exposure to Diacetyl has said that the science is linking the two is solid.  The OMB also pointed to a number of damaging assertions regarding the link and state that OSHA has long known about the issue but avoided addressing the serious health problem until the media took hold, saying that it is now years later that OSHA is making what many critics feel is a tiny step toward ending a preventable health issue.

The National Council for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health section of the American Public Health Association have developed a series of seven recommendations under entitled the “Protecting Workers on the Job” agenda that include pushing for a major OSHA overhaul under the incoming administration, ensuring this agenda is a top priority, and ensuring increased regulatory enforcement.  The agenda also calls for increased funding of related programs, increased worker participation, decreased deaths and injuries, workers’ compensation reform, and reduction and elimination of toxic chemicals in the workplace, said the OMB.

In 2007, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health discussed how some workers exposed to Diacetyl in plants making microwave popcorn were diagnosed with Bronchiolitis obliteransm but OSHA never issued specific regulations regarding the chemical.  In addition to dozens illnesses, there have also been reports of several deaths, with some gong back as far as the 1980s, linked to the chemical.

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