Popcorn Lung Illness FAQ

Q: What are flavoring chemicals?
A: Flavoring chemicals are found in food products, such as microwave popcorn, and often contain complex mixtures of natural and man-made ingredients.

Q: Has there been any recent news about flavoring chemicals?
A: Recent research has focused on the release of harmful chemical vapors at microwave popcorn packaging plants. Depending on the flavoring and the food product manufacturing process, workers in factories and manufacturing plants may be exposed to hazardous flavorings or flavoring ingredients in the form of chemical vapors, dusts, or sprays.

In September 2007, a number of microwave popcorn manufacturers announced that they are making efforts to remove the chemical food additive diacetyl from their products, and ABC News reported the first known case of bronchiolitis obliterans (also called "popcorn lung") in a consumer who ate large quantities of microwave popcorn. (Learn More)

Q: Why are the vaporsreleased from flavoring chemicals dangerous?
A: A chemical called diacetyl is used to add a butter-like flavor to food products, including microwave popcorn. Animal studies have shown that rats exposed to vapors from flavoring chemicals have developed severe airway injuries. It is suspected that there is a causal relationship between diacetyl exposure and the development of bronchiolitis obliterans, an uncommon lung disease characterized by fixed airways obstruction. However, this causal relationship has not been firmly established.

Q: Do the flavoring chemicals found in these food products pose any danger to the ordinary consumer?
A: In September 2007, ABC News reported the first known case of "popcorn lung" in a consumer who ate large quantities of microwave popcorn. According to ABC, Wayne Watson of Centennial, Colorado "ate about two bags daily, but now he has quit because of the havoc it reeked on his lungs."

Q: What symptoms are associated with flavoring chemicals exposure?
A: Symptoms include cough (without phlegm) and shortness of breath on exertion. Other symptoms include fever, night sweats,and weight loss, as well as eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation. Symptoms typically do not improve even when a worker spends time away from a factor or plant that produces, uses, or processes flavoring chemicals. While there may be a gradual reduction of cough years after exposure, shortness of breath on exertion persists. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and are generally gradual in onset and progressive (although severe symptoms can occur suddenly).

Q: How can hazardous exposure to flavoring chemicals be eliminated or prevented?
A: The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends that employers substitute less hazardous materials if feasible, implement engineering and administrative controls, educate themselves and their employees, mandate the use of personal protective equipment (such as gloves, goggles, and respiratory protection equipment, if necessary), and regularly monitor exposure and worker health. For a full description of NIOSH's recommendations, click here. Also, see Preventing Lung Disease in Workers Who Use or Make Flavorings.

Q: Are there any government standards or regulations in place to monitor hazardous exposure to flavoring chemicals?
A: Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limits (PELs) and/or NIOSH recommended exposure limits (RELs) have only been established for only 46 of the 1,037 flavoring ingredients considered by the flavorings industry to be potentially hazardous because of their volatility and irritant properties. Much remains to be investigated.

Q: What should I doif I think I have been injured as a result of flavoring chemicals exposure?
A: If you or a loved one have experienced any symptoms or have developed any medical conditions related to exposure to flavoring chemicals, you should first seek immediate medical attention. In the event that you are concerned that you are exposed to high levels of flavoring chemicals at your place of work, you may wish to meet with an experienced attorney to discuss your options and to protect your right to a legal remedy for your injuries. To find an experienced attorney, use the "Find a Lawyer" tool on this page,or click here.

Next Steps

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