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Man awarded over $7 million for microwave popcorn-induced lung damage

Friday, September 28, 2012 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: microwave popcorn, lung damage, lawsuit

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(NaturalNews) A Colorado man says his constant habit of eating two bags of microwaveable popcorn every day for 10 years caused him to develop an irreversible lung condition, for which he now has trouble breathing properly. And following a recent lawsuit he filed against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., the company responsible for producing the popcorn, a jury has decided that the man is entitled to $7.2 million in compensation for his loss of health, even though he willingly ate the popcorn all those years.

According to ABC News, Wayne Watson developed a somewhat rare respiratory illness known as bronchiolitis obliterans, or "popcorn lung," which involves a severe narrowing of the small airway branches in the lungs as a result of fibrosis (scar tissue) and inflammation. This narrowing creates airway obstruction, which can make it difficult for sufferers of the condition to breathe. Oftentimes, as is the case with Watson, the condition significantly decreases lung capacity, causing perpetual shortness of breath and dry cough.

The culprit, claims Watson, is diacetyl, an artificial flavoring chemical commonly added to microwaveable popcorn in order to give it a buttery flavor without having to actually use real butter. Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. is one of many companies that uses diacetyl in its microwaveable popcorn products, and that does not list the potential dangers of prolonged exposure to the chemical, which include not only respiratory illness but also Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

"I probably look like a fairly healthy guy, but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity," said Watson to ABC News about what the chemical did to his health. "[Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.] thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough [diacetyl] to make a difference. Well, they rolled the dice and they [lost]."

Watson also reportedly worked with carpet-cleaning chemicals for many years, which defense attorneys tried to claim was the real cause of Watson's health problems. But ultimately, because the science shows that diacetyl can and does cause respiratory illness (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17288497), including among workers exposed to the chemical at factories that produce microwaveable popcorn, the jury decided that Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., which produces private label food products for Kroger and other grocers and food companies, should be held financially responsible.

Watson's case follows a long line of other rather surprising tort cases against food manufacturers, including the infamous Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants case in which a woman by the name of Stella Liebeck sued McDonald's for its so-called "defective" coffee after she spilled the hot beverage on herself and suffered third degree burns, and won. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald%27s_Restaurants)

Sources for this article include:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-19657878

http://abcnews.go.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com

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