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Mo. Popcorn Plant Settles Illness Claims

Oct 5, 2005 | AP

The claims of 19 people who blame lung disease on the butter flavoring used at the popcorn plant where they worked have been settled for an undisclosed sum.

The settlements come after the flavoring company was ordered in jury trials to pay four people about $53 million in damages, which were appealed.

People who worked at the plant in Jasper, 135 miles south of Kansas City, claimed that exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in the butter flavoring, caused bronchiolitis obliterans, a disease that obstructs the lungs. None of the workers have died. Ken McClain, an attorney for 15 plaintiffs, said several remain close to needing lung transplants.

The plaintiffs said the manufacturers should have known the flavorings were hazardous and they failed to warn employees of the dangers or provide safety instructions. McClain said what happened at the Jasper plant has led the flavoring industry and the government to start looking more carefully at potential hazards.

"This has virtually been an unregulated industry that has ignored the risks of their products," he said.

The settlements were announced Tuesday with New York-based International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and its subsidiary, Bush Boake Allen Inc. International Flavors spokeswoman Gail Belmuth reiterated the company's position that the product is safe if handled and used properly. She wouldn't comment further.

Jasper Popcorn Co. and Glister-Mary Lee Corp., which bought the popcorn factory in 1999, were not defendants in the lawsuits.

Health officials have said people who microwave popcorn and eat it are not in danger, but chemicals released during popping are being studied.

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