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Food additives

Common butter flavor chemical ingredient causes serious lung disease

Thursday, July 27, 2006 by: NewsTarget
Tags: food additives, toxic chemicals, artificial flavor


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(NewsTarget) Two workers' unions want the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to limit workers' exposure to an artificial butter flavoring ingredient that has been found to cause a serious lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, or "popcorn workers' lung."

The Teamsters Union and United Food and Commercial Workers say that the ingredient, diacetyl, has caused the condition in dozens of workers and they have accused OSHA of doing nothing about it. OSHA currently does not mandate limited worker exposure to diacetyl, but has guidelines that suggest ways to do so.

Both unions have requested an "emergency temporary standard" to limit worker exposure to diacetyl, but Labor Secretary Elaine Chao said that such a request could take up to two years to evaluate.

Forty-two scientists have joined the unions in urging OSHA to create a standard for exposure, including David Michaels of George Washington University's School of Public Health. "There is compelling scientific evidence that diacetyl causes terrible lung disease," he said. "OSHA has ignored the evidence and has done nothing."

According to union spokespersons, about 30,000 Teamsters Union members, and up to 1 million nonunion workers have been exposed to diacetyl. Both unions have accused the Bush administration of being lax in workplace safety enforcement.

"The control measures needed to minimize or eliminate such exposures are readily available for use in affected workplaces," said Lamont Byrd of the Teamster Safety and Health Office. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association said in a statement that it would support "any appropriate action that is based on sound science, including the establishment of a (permissible exposure limit) that will protect workers."

There was no word from the scientists, OSHA, or the unions as to what exposure to diacetyl may do to consumers of products that contain the harmful chemical, but consumer health advocate Mike Adams had this to say: "If this chemical is causing serious harm to the workers who handle it, what's it doing to the millions of consumers who eat it?"

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