Flavorings found in food products often contain complex mixtures of natural and man-made ingredients. 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.
Recent research has focused on the release of harmful chemical vapors at microwave popcorn packaging plants. Studies have revealed the occurrence of severe lung disease in workers at these plants.More specifically, a chemical called diacetyl, found in butter flavoring mixtures, may be causing bronchiolitis obliterans, an uncommon lung disease characterized by fixed airway obstruction.
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.More Information:
Diacetyl (2,3-butanedione) is a chemical that has been used to add a butter-like flavor to food products, including microwave popcorn.
Animal studies of exposure to butter flavoring vapors have shown airway injury in rats after acute inhalation of these vapors. While the studies show that the vapors are capable of causing severe airway injury in laboratory animals, a causal relationship between diacetyl exposure and the development of bronchiolitis obliterans has not been firmly established.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is an uncommon lung disease characterized by fixed airway obstruction.When inflammation and scarring occur in the smallest airways of the lung, it can lead to severe and disabling shortness of breath.
There are many known causes of this disease -- including inhalation of certain chemicals, certain bacterial and viral infections, organ transplantation, and reactions to certain medications. Other gases that might cause bronchiolitis obliterans in occupational settings or in other environments include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, ammonia, phosgene,and other irritant gases.
Symptoms Associatedwith Flavoring Chemical Exposure
Up until recently, doctors thought the symptoms associated with flavoring exposure were due to asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema,pneumonia, or smoking. These symptoms include cough (without phlegm) and shortness of breath on exertion. Symptoms typically do not improve when the worker spends time away from the factories and plants that produce, use, or process flavoring chemicals. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and are usually gradual in onset and progressive (although severe symptoms can occur suddenly).
Other symptoms associated with flavoring exposure include fever, night sweats, and weight loss, as well as eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation. In some cases, chemical eye burns have required medical treatment.
While there may be a gradual reduction of cough years after exposure, shortness of breath on exertion persists. Severe lung disease may require a lung transplant.
Hazardous ExposureElimination and Prevention
The following is a summary of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) recommendations on how employers can prevent hazardous exposure to flavoring chemicals. For a full description of NIOSH's recommendations, click here. Also, see Preventing Lung Disease in Workers Who Use or Make Flavorings.
Government Standardsand Regulations
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permissible exposure limits (PELs) and/or NIOSH recommended exposure limits (RELs) have only been established for 46 of the 1,037 flavoring ingredients considered by the flavorings industry to be potentially hazardous because of their volatility and irritant properties.
While recent attention has been largely focused on workers exposed to volatile chemicals in butter flavorings at microwave popcorn plants,other reports indicate that other flavoring and food manufacturing workers exposed to various flavorings may also be at risk. Still, much remains to be investigated.
Flavoring Chemical Exposure - Getting Legal Help
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.
Contact a qualified product liability attorney to make sure your rights are protected.