Tag Archives: popcorn workers lung

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.

Questions for the EPA

I sent the following e-mail to the Seattle District Office of the EPA today. I’ll let you know what they write back.

To the EPA:

I understand according to recent articles in the Seattle PI that the EPA completed a study last year on the release of diacetyl from microwave popcorn. Results were supposedly made available to the popcorn industry, yet not to the public.

Diacetyl is known to cause serious health problems to workers exposed to it. I would like to know what amounts I am being exposed to by microwaving popcorn.

Where and when or how can I receive a copy of this study or see a copy of this study?
When is this study going to be released?
Why has this study not been released yet?
What concerns does this study raise regarding the safety of microwave popcorn?
Have you alerted any other Federal Agencies, Congress or the President regarding the results of this study?

Steve Zemke

I did a quick keyword search of the EPA library system and it returned nothing for the words diacetyl and microwave popcorn. Try it yourself at EPA national online library system. For comparison, typing in pcb produced 786 documents and lead 3895.

The Great Bush Toxic Popcorn Scandal – Part II

Follow Bill Clinton’s example – don’t inhale. Microwave popcorn releases toxic diacetyl vapors. This is the buttery aroma you smell when you open the bag. Don’t inhale, because the Bush Administration is continuing to cover up the scandal and is not acting to protect your health.

The New York Times today reports that a “Doctor Links a Man’s Illness to Microwave Popcorn.”

“Heated diacetyl becomes a vapor and, when inhaled over a long period of time, seems to lead the small airways in the lungs to become swollen and scarred. Sufferers can breathe in deeply, but they have difficulty exhaling. The severe form of the disease is called bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn workers’ lung,” which can be fatal.”

We wrote last week about “The Great Bush Toxic Popcorn Scandal.” This is new evidence damning the inaction of the Bush Administration in addressing a serious documented workplace hazard as well as a consumer health hazard.

Bush officials in the Environmental Protection Agency have measured the release of diacetyl from microwave popcorn but have not released the study to the public. The study was completed last year. The results were meanwhile given to the popcorn industry.

With this latest evidence and inaction we are obviously now in the throes of the “Great Bush Toxic Popcorn Cover-up“. The Bush team is obviously more intent on protecting corporate profits than alerting the public to the serious health risk of consumers being exposed to toxic diacetyl vapors.

This is the problem you get when you saturate the Federal bureaucracy, that is supposed to represent the public interest, with corporate and partisan politicians beholden to corporate interests as Bush has done. The Republican “Corporations First” policies of Bush is a disastrous one for our nation. Individual and worker concerns about health and safety are made subordinate to corporate profits.

As the Seattle PI wrote about last week and today, the Bush Administration is not acting on regulating and cleaning up the toxic workplace conditions that exist in industries like the popcorn industry. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health first investigated workers injured and dying in Midwest popcorn plants starting in 2001.

Despite serious life threatening workplace exposure to diacetyl, the Bush Administration, carrying out the conservative Republican Agenda to not regulate corporations, has not taken prudent action to protect worker safety and health. And now it appears that they are also ignoring the consumer health risk.

Consider these two statements quoted in today’s Seattle PI article.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., chairwoman of a work force protection subcommittee:

“The reported case of a consumer diagnosed with popcorn lung underscores the need for our public health agencies to take this hazard more seriously, not only for workers, but for consumers as well. While OSHA is dragging its feet over the numerous reports of workers who have died or suffered serious lung disease from exposure to diacetyl, this new case raises concerns that consumers may be at risk as well.”

As well as this comment:

Dr. David Egilman, an occupation medicine specialist, has examined and testified for many of the workers injured by diacetyl.
“People need to realize that these illness and deaths were completely preventable,” Egilman said. “They occurred because the companies who make these products hid the information on toxicity and control the regulatory process. … An emasculated government public health community that is subservient to corporate profits cannot protect us — even from popcorn”

I urge people to contact their Congressional representatives and urge action be taken to remove diacetyl form microwave popcorn, to put workplace protection in place for workers exposed to diacetyl and to ask that other foods with diacetyl in them that are heated or microwaved be investigated for possible health dangers.

The Seattle PI mentions that diacetyl is also in “potato chips, baked goods and candies, frozen food, artificial butter, cooking oils, beer, dog food and other items”

Tell Congress to take action to protect workers and consumers from the dangers of diacetyl in heated or microwaved foods. Click here to send a message to Congress.

The Great Bush Toxic Popcorn Scandal

Bet you thought the Environmental Protection Agency and other Federal Agencies worked for the public good? Wrong again. The EPA under Bush is just another Federal Agency working to protect corporate interests. This time its corporate popcorn profits.

After you read the story in the Seattle PI today you probably won’t want to eat any more microwavable popcorn. Remember the rush of hot moisture and vapor when you open the bag and how it smells “buttery”?

As headlined in the Seattle PI today, the chemical ingredient diacetyl, which is added to popcorn to give it a buttery taste, has been linked to “the sometime fatal destruction of the lungs of hundreds of workers in food production and flavoring factories.”

As the PI correspondent Andrew Schneider writes diacetyl is in thousands of consumer products including microwaved popcorn:

Despite the worker safety findings — and despite scores of jury decisions and settlements awarding millions of dollars to workers who sued after having their lungs destroyed by exposure to diacetyl — neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission have investigated. The FDA years ago declared the chemical safe for consumption. Labels on almost all products containing it call it a flavoring and only rarely do the labels mention diacetyl.
The only government investigators to examine whether consumers are at risk — whether diacetyl is released when consumers pop corn in their home microwaves, and if so, how much — is the Environmental Protection Agency. But to the frustration of many public health workers, the findings of the EPA’s study — which began in 2003 and was completed last year — have been released only to the popcorn industry

The Pi notes that ConAgra, the largest supplier of microwave popcorn in the world told the EPA in 2004 that it had found that diacetyl was released when microwave popcorn bags are opened. It told EPA that “it is imperative that the health and safety of this product be assured to the extent possible within the very near future”

Bush’s EPA seems to have complied with this corporate wish. If the public doesn’t know, then it must be safe. Even though the study was completed last year the public has not been told of the results.

And even if they are, these days with non scientists in the Bush Administration rewriting and controlling the release of scientific studies it will be hard to discern what the actual study results found. And as the PI notes, this particular study was even done with industry involvement. Unfortunately it is also a limited study, not looking at health effects , only amounts of chemicals released.

And these releases to workers have been fatal. As the PI reports further diacetyl in food manufacturing plants “been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans — irreversible obstructive lung diseases — for which lung transplants are often the only way to survive.”

Despite this seriousness, both the Bush Administration Food and Drug Administration and the Consumer Product Safety Commission have declined to act. Corporate profits at any cost including human life reign supreme in the Bush Republican run Federal bureaucracy.

see additional articles:

artificial butter flavorings produced in popcorn factories linked with lung cancer

St Louis Post Dispatch – Popcorn Study showed Chemical was Toxic

Washington Post – Flavoring Suspected in Illness – Calif. Considers Banning Chemical in Microwave Popcorn

IndyStar.com – Microwave Popcorn Maker Takes Initiative

NY Times – OSHA Leaves Worker Safety in Hands of Industry