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Popcorn lung

Microwave Popcorn Flavoring Fumes Linked to Lung Disease

Thursday, January 17, 2008 by: David Gutierrez, staff writer
Tags: popcorn lung, diacetyl, food additives


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(NewsTarget) The two largest microwave popcorn manufacturers in the United States have announced plans to phase out the use of a popcorn flavoring chemical that has been linked to lung disease in factory workers, after a doctor reported what may be the first case of a consumer becoming ill from the chemical.

A naturally occurring chemical called diacetyl, found in very low concentrations in dairy products, fruit, beer and wine, is used to give a buttery flavor to many foods including microwave popcorn. In 2002, federal scientists concluded that diacetyl fumes in the microwave popcorn factories were in fact toxic, and could lead to a disease known variously as bronchiolitis obliterans, constrictive bronchiolitis or "popcorn workers lung."

Constrictive bronchiolitis is a severe and potentially fatal disorder in which the lungs become plugged with granulation tissue, which the body forms as a part of the wound healing process. Inflammation and scarring further constrict lung capacity down to approximately 20 percent.

In February 2007, a lung specialist at the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, Dr. Cecile Rose, reported what may be the first known case of a consumer contracting popcorn workers lung from microwave popcorn. A patient with a persistent cough and trouble breathing was referred to Rose, who was known to have worked with the popcorn industry to study diacetyl in the past. Rose identified the man's condition as constrictive bronchiolitis, and he informed her that he had eaten two bags of microwave popcorn a day for approximately 15 years.

In July, Rose sent letters to the federal government about the case, warning that he may have contracted the condition from diacetyl inhalation.

The Environmental Protection Agency completed a study of the fumes produced by microwave popcorn preparation in 2005, which confirmed that diacetyl is one of the many chemicals released when microwave popcorn bags are heated and opened.

On September 4, the Weaver Popcorn Co. announced that it would be replaced diacetyl in all its products. The following day, ConAgra made the same announcement.

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