Tag Archives: Occupational Health and Safety

Is EPA Deep Sixing Their Toxic Microwave Popcorn Study?

A week ago I got a phone call from the EPA in Washington, DC. It was someone from their Office of Public Affairs responding to my Sept 5, 2007 e-mail to the Environmental Protection Agency, asking them about their study on the release of diacetyl from microwave popcorn. The study was completed last year and shown to the popcorn companies but never released to the public.

I was told by Doretta Reayes in the Office of Public Affairs on that Monday that I would receive a call from Melissa in their Research and Development Division that afternoon about the study. I never received a call from her. Instead I received another call from Doretta saying that she “did more research” and that the study had “not been published” and there was no one to talk to and that “no one can answer questions”.

When I asked when it was going to be published she didn’t know. She said there was “no date for release.” When I asked why it was not released yet she didn’t know. She suggested I contact the FDA if I was concerned about it as a food issue – the classic pass it on to someone else. When I asked if the EPA study results had been passed on to any other Federal Agency like the FDA or anyone else, she didn’t know.

Unfortunately other Federal Agencies are not responding to diacetyl very fast. The FDA has said they will look at it now based on the recently reported case of bronchiolitis obliterans reported in August. But did the EPA provide the FDA with the results of their study on the release of diacetyl from microwave popcorn? I couldn’t get an answer from the EPA. If the EPA didn’t, why didn’t they?

Other Federal Agencies are also not responding. They seem to be avoiding the issue just like the Occupational Health and Safety people have been avoiding setting workplace regulations for workers in popcorn plants who are exposed to toxic diacetyl vapors. Popcorn workers problems have been investigated since 2001 but there are still no workplace guidelines or standards.

Doretta said she could see I was concerned and that she would get back to me on Friday. I still have not heard from her.

Since the initial press reports at the end of August on the dangers of diacetyl exposure from microwave popcorn most of the major popcorn companies have announced that they are removing diacetyl from their popcorn. They have seen the study, while the public did not.

Is the EPA delaying timely release of information that could affect people’s health to give the popcorn companies time to phase out diacetyl in microwave popcorn? If so the EPA could be subject to lawsuits from people just now being diagnosed with health effects caused by consumption of microwave popcorn. Just who benefits by delay in the release of this information – certainly not the public.

It seems to me that maybe someone in Congress needs to request a copy of the study and investigate whether the EPA is deliberately withholding the timely release of results to the public. They need to determine whether or not the EPA has withheld vital public health information to protect corporate popcorn interests. They need to ask what EPA did with the results once they had them and whether they forwarded them to other agencies, like the FDA and Occupational Heath and Safety Administration, concerned with health and food safety and worker safety.