Got Microwave Popcorn? Got Bronchiolitis Obliterans? Got Milk?

Workers at popcorn plants exposed to diacetyl have developed a rare lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans. This has been investigated since 2001 yet the Occupational Health and Safety Administration has not acted to protect workers health by coming up with workplace exposure regulations.

Now this week two cases have emerged of people developing “popcorn workers lung” as it is sometimes called. It can result in the need to have a lung transplant or death. One case was reported by a pulmonary specialist at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver of a 10 year twice a day microwave popcorn eater. The other potential case was of a son of a popcorn worker who received a huge amount of microwave popcorn from his job.

After years of inaction, including secretly seeing the results of an EPA microwave popcorn study last year, the popcorn industry is stampeding to the exits. Last week Weaver Popcorn Company of Indianapolis, Indiana announced that it was removing diacetyl, the suspected toxic ingredient, from microwave popcorn. Yesterday three more companies claim they will be jumping ship. ConAgra Foods Inc, General Mills, and American Popcorn Company said they would be removing diacetyl from their popcorn.

Last week I posted on this issue – “The Great Bush Toxic Popcorn Scandal” I noticed soon afterwards that my site , MajorityRulesBlog, had been visited by someone from ConAgra . If you Google on microwave popcorn and diacetyl you will see there is a lot of web activity on this issue.

Diacetyl is not just in popcorn but actually occurs in some food naturally, like milk and wine. The Dairy Industry is concerned of course but their website actually raised more questions.

The IDFA or International Daisry Foods Association notes that

“…diacetyl occurs naturally in some dairy products, and consumers may not realize that eating products with diacetyl poses no health risks. The health risk is associated with inhaling diacetyl that has been heated to temperatures over 100 degrees.

“Because of the nature of our products, dairy foods that contain diacetyl do not present a consumer or worker safety concern,” said Clay Detlefsen, IDFA vice president. “At colder temperatures, diacetyl attaches to the water molecules in dairy foods and never volatilizes or reaches the air.”

When used as artificial butter flavoring, diacetyl may be hazardous when heated and inhaled over a long period — such as in the production of microwave popcorn and some other heated food products. Some workers in factories that make the artificial flavoring have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterns, also known as “popcorn workers lung,” which causes serious respiratory problems…

Diacetyl also occurs naturally in wine, particularly chardonnay, and is used as an additive in many baked goods, candies and snack foods as well as in some dairy products.”

Several additional questions arise. What other foods, besides popcorn, contain diacetyl and in what amounts? And what is the workplace exposure levels to diacetyl of workers that are preparing foods heated over 100 degrees – like baked goods? And what consumer danger is there from heating foods that contain diacetyl over 100 degrees like in a microwave or oven?

A just released study entitled “Bronchiolitis Obliterans Syndrome in Chemical Workers Producing Diacetyl for Food Flavorings” was published in the Sept 1, 2007 online edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study concludes: “Exposure to an agent during diacetyl production appears to be responsible for causing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in chemical process operators, consistent with the suspected role of diacetyl in downstream food production.”

Enough scientific evidence is accumulating that there is reason to be concerned about diacetyl in all food products, not just popcorn, that are microwaved or heated to high enough temperatures to vaporize diacetyl. And worker safety levels need to be put in place in chemical plants producing the buttery flavoring diacetyl and well as plants adding the chemical as flavoring for food.

Since the Bush Administration seems not interested in tacking worker and consumer health and safety issues regarding diacetyl, action needs to take place in Congress to investigate and take action. Some states like California are already looking at acting sooner rather than later.

Contact your Representatives in Congress and urge them to take action.

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