Department of Labor Directed The OSHA To Establish New Rules. The Department of Labor has directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to speed up the establishment of new rules to protect workers in the snack and flavorings industry from the threat of a disease known as Popcorn Workers Lung. According to The Wall Street Journal, the directive is an indication that the Obama administration will take a tougher stance on worker protections than its predecessor.
Popcorn Workers Lung is a potentially life threatening ailment, for which the only cure is a lung transplant. The disease – also known as bronchiolitis obliterans – has been linked to diacetyl, a chemical used to give microwave popcorn and other snack foods a buttery flavor.
In 2003 and 2004, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health found an association between diacetyl and the development of Popcorn Workers Lung among hundreds of workers at six Midwestern popcorn factories. In April 2007, the Centers for Disease Control reported that workers at food flavoring factories, as well as popcorn plants, were at risk for the disease.
Under the Bush administration, OSHA refused to issue an emergency standard setting diacetyl exposure limits for workers. The next day the U.S. House of Representatives voted to require OSHA to issue the emergency standard, but the bill never won final passage in the Senate.
Labor Secretary Has Disposed of a Bush Administration Rule
According to The Wall Street Journal, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis has disposed of a Bush Administration rule- called an advance notice of proposed rule-making-that would have delayed the establishment and implementation of new diacetyl rules. The Bush administration issued the rule-making notice on its last day in office.
According to the Labor Department, diacetyl has been linked to the deaths of three workers exposed while manufacturing food flavorings In a statement, Solis said she is “alarmed” that workers could still be at risk of developing Popcorn Workers Lung from diacetyl exposure. As a member of Congress, Solis said she worked to protect workers from this risk. “These deaths are preventable,” Solis said.
Earlier this week, we reported that a victim of Popcorn Workers Lung and his wife had been awarded $7.5 million for his injuries by a federal jury in Iowa. Unfortunately, the victim – who worked at a popcorn manufacturing facility since the 1990s – had died from the illness one day before the verdict was rendered.
According to The Associated Press, more than 300 other Popcorn Lung cases are pending around the country, and verdicts as high as $20 million have been awarded in previous cases.