Popcorn an Occupational Hazard

Date Posted
Mike Rich

It has been a long standing tradition to ban popcorn from the break room due to the strong odor of the buttery kernels.

However, could cancer be a new reason to consider eliminating the movie-time treat.

A 59-year old Denver man, Wayne Watrson, was recently awarded $7.2 million after successfully suing Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co. and Dillon Companies Inc. for respiratory damage from inadvertently inhaling excessive amounts of microwave popcorn’s artificial butter smell.

“I probably look like a fairly healthy guy, but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity,” Watson told ABC News.

The chemical responsible for Watson’s disease diacetyl, was used to produce the artificial butter flavor of popcorn.

Hundreds of employees of popcorn factories have sued for popcorn lung related to diacetyl exposure, but Watson was the first consumer to take action.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) sick workers from plants producing microwave popcorn show scarring of the bronchioles, the smallest airways in the lung, which restricts breathing.

To prevent possible illness the CDC recommends factory workers handling artificial flavorings take precautions such as wearing respirators, keeping chemical containers tightly sealed, and getting regular breathing tests.

While the majority of popcorn manufactures stopped using diacetyl in 2008, other concerns have arisen regarding potential hazardous chemicals in microwave popcorn.

Prehaps the most pressing of those concerns revolves around the waxy coating on microwave bags that contains a chemical substance called Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is believed to have toxic effect on humans and animals.

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration called for companies to voluntarily stop using PFOA in microwavable bags but a full phase out won’t occur until 2015.

To alleviate concerns about popcorn related illness you could always use an air popper or cook popcorn on a stove top.

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