I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! Diacetyl-Flavored Popcorn Makes Headlines

Popcorn52 year old furniture salesman and nonsmoker Wayne Watkins suddenly found himself getting short of breath while golfing and singing in the choir. From his symptoms, doctors at Denver's National Jewish Medical & Research Center deduced that Watson had indulged excessively in an entirely different behavior that over time had reduced his lung capacity by 50%: eating microwave popcorn. Mr. Watson admitted to eating 2-3 bags of microwave popcorn a day for years, making a point of inhaling the fumes that come from the steamy bag of popcorn when it is first opened. His condition, bronchiolitis obliterans, is also known among food workers as "popcorn lung," and strikes food manufacturing employees who work around popcorn. The illness is caused by diacetyl, the chemical companies add to popcorn to make it taste buttery. Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret and Jolly Time all use it. Jiffy Pop, which gets popped on the stovetop, doesn't. Popcorn workers' plight aside, just one day after the story about Wayne Watson's condition was printed in the Denver Post, all four of the above companies agreed to immediately remove the chemical from their popcorn.


Sacramento Bee - March 30, 2007
[http://www.sacbee.com/101/story/146589.html More lung damage found: Another 22 workers have breathing problems linked to butter flavoring]
By Chris Bowman

Ongoing medical screening of California flavoring industry workers has turned up another 22 young employees with abnormally low lung capacity -- evidence of chemical poisoning on the job -- a top state health official said.

The workers will undergo further testing to determine whether they have a "fixed obstructive airway" disease, an untreatable impairment strongly linked to a butter-mimicking chemical called diacetyl, said Kevin Reilly, the health department's deputy director of preventative services.

[. . .]

Earlier this year, state health and job safety officials confirmed that at least eight workers have lost nearly all use of their lungs.

"These employees are very young. They are nonsmoking, and they're Latino," Reilly said.

[. . .]

The food industry favors workplace restrictions over a chemical ban.