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Popcorn Lung Trial Starts

Feb 19, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

Today, a trial opened in the case of popcorn worker, Ronald Kuiper of Sioux City, who is suing several firms over severe lung damage he suffered as a result of toxic butter flavorings used in the manufacture of popcorn, reported the Sioux City Journal.

Kuiper said, according to court documents, that he suffered lung damage as a result of working with butter flavorings containing Diacetyl, which, said Kuiper, was known by the companies to cause lung damage, reported the Sioux City Journal.  Kuiper is suing firms involved in the design, distribution, and sale of the Diacetyl products and says he suffered severe respiratory system damage, extreme shortness of breath, and a significant reduction in life expectancy as a result of his working with the products, reported the Sioux City Journal, which added that Kuiper is suing for past and future medical expenses, loss of income, lost wages, and diminished future earning potential.

The chemical that causes Popcorn Lung, or Bronchiolitis obliterans—Diacetyl—is what artificially flavors cookies, candies, popcorn, cooking oils and sprays, and an array of food products so that they carry a butter-like flavor.  In late 2007, reports abounded over how the Bush administration, some business groups, and others argued that there was insufficient evidence to warrant government limits on the dangerous chemical, despite that a federal official who testified at a congressional hearing swore under oath that Diacetyl is suspicious.  Also, the doctor who detected the trend in Bronchiolitis obliterans following exposure to Diacetyl has said that the science linking the two is solid.

Meanwhile, last month we reported that investigations into the deadly lung disease were being blocked.  OMB Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group explained that factory workers, and likely consumers—exposed to Diacetyl are at an increased risk for developing Popcorn Lung, known medically as Bronchiolitis obliterans.  The OMB also pointed to a number of damaging assertions regarding the link and states that OSHA has long known about the issue but avoided addressing the serious health problem until the media took hold.

Seattle PI also reported that that flavor manufacturer Sensient Flavors International and top governmental occupational safety investigators are battling the issue in court with Sensient Flavors working to ensure that federal safety and health officials are unable to protect workers exposed to the deadly chemical that has caused several fatalities and has seriously sickened workers in plants using Diacetyl nationwide.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health—NIOSH—was called to investigate a Popcorn Lung outbreak at a Missouri microwave popcorn plant in 2000 and found the disease present in that plant and others like it across the Midwest, said Seattle PI.  NIOSH is the worker safety research area of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which approved Diacetyl use years ago without any agency testing, has not indicated if it will or will not order any testing of the toxic food flavoring now.

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