Bronchiolitis Obliterans, aka Popcorn Workers Lung, is an obstructive lung disease in which the bronchioles of the lungs are blocked by the growth of fibrous tissue. The nickname “Popcorn Workers Lung” has been given to Bronchiolitis Obliterans because workers in factories that make microwavable popcorn and that use diacetyl for the buttery flavoring are known to contract the disease. The disease is irreversible, and can become so severe that a lung transplant may be necessary. Popcorn Workers Lung is a rare disorder that is known to be caused by repeated exposure to toxic gases, namely diacetyl.
Symptoms of Bronchiolitis Obliterans
The symptoms of Popcorn Workers Lung usually occur gradually and become progressively worse. However, the sudden onset of severe symptoms is not unheard of. Signs of this disease include:
- Coughing (usually without phlegm)
- Shortness of breath on exertion
- Night sweats
- Weight loss
- Difficulty blowing air out fast and no improvement with asthma medication
A variety of breathing tests, chest X-rays, chest scans and lung biopsies are usually needed in order to diagnose bronchiolitis obliterans. Often, patients are thought to have pneumonia, asthma or other lung ailments before a final diagnosis of Popcorn Workers Lung is made.
Bronchiolitis Obliterans and Diacetyl Exposure
Diacetyl, a chemical used to give microwave popcorn and other snacks a buttery flavor, has been associated with the onset of bronchiolitis obliterans. In 2003 and 2004, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) linked the development of Popcorn Workers Lung in hundreds of workers at six Midwestern popcorn factories to diacetyl exposure. The Centers for Disease Control has made a similar link between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans. In 2007, two major popcorn manufacturers decided to discontinue the use of diacetyl in their microwave popcorn. Weaver Popcorn and ConAgra Foods, Inc. both announced the move as a way to protect worker health.
In June of 2007, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) was informed of a patient who had developed bronchiolitis obliterans despite never having worked in the popcorn or flavorings industry. Reportedly, the man had been eating at least two bags of butter-flavored microwave popcorn everyday for 15 years prior to his diagnosis. The FDA is now investigating to see if his disease is linked to the consumption of diacetyl in microwave popcorn.
Popcorn Lung and E-Cigarettes
Diacetyl exposure has also been linked to the liquid in e-cigarettes. Konstantinos Farsalinos, a physician and researcher at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens and an e-cigarette (EC) user, was among the first to highlight flavoring concerns with e-cigarettes. In 2014, he published a study that found that 74 percent of 159 sweet e-cigarette flavors contained diacetyl or acetyl propionyl, a similar chemical substitute. Findings revealed that nearly half of the tested products would expose users to levels that exceed recommended safety limits. The chemicals “were found in a large proportion of sweet-flavored EC liquids, with many of them exposing users to higher than allowed safety levels. Their presence in EC liquids represents an avoidable risk. Proper measures should be taken by EC liquid manufacturers and flavoring suppliers to eliminate these hazards from the products without necessarily limiting the availability of sweet flavors,” the study concluded.
Popcorn Workers Lung Victims Legal Rights
If you or a loved one developed popcorn workers lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) as a result of diacetyl exposure from microwave popcorn or e-cigarettes, you may have valuable legal rights. Please fill out the form at the right for a free case evaluation or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) today for a free lawsuit case review by one of our qualified attorneys.