Food Workers and Consumers May Face Toxic Exposure Injury and develop popcorn lung disease (Bronchiolitis Obliterans)


The U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) warns popcorn manufacturers that inhaling the fumes of flavoring chemicals like diacetyl in the workplace can cause severe lung disease for food workers in production and packaging areas.

Food production plant workers around the country may have faced occupational toxins in processing and packaging areas. Plant workers may have been exposed to high dosages of diacetyl for long durations.

Depending on the specific artificial flavoring and the food production process, workers may have been exposed to hazardous flavorings like diacetyl in the form of vapors or fumes.

Studies have shown that exposure to diacetyl is linked to bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in food production plant workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the CDC have warned companies and workers about diacetyl because of the danger of developing serious respiratory diseases.

Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Ohio personal injury lawyer representing plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of consumer product liability and workplace injury claims


What is Popcorn Lung?


Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) is a form of chronic lung dysfunction in which the lungs deteriorate, and cause a myriad of life-threatening symptoms. The deterioration in pulmonary function is generally irreversible and progresses despite therapy. No effective treatment has yet been established.

First recognized in the 1980s, BOS remains a pervasive illness with devastating consequences. Some causes have been identified. The most common risk factors for bronchiolitis obliterans are working conditions that expose employees to dangerous chemicals.

Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Cincinnati workplace injury Attorney and Bronchiolitis Obliterans lawyer representing plaintiffs nationwide in a wide variety of civil litigation claims.  


Diacetyl Exposure Lawsuits


Exposure to diacetyl production appears to be responsible for causing bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in chemical process workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the flavoring industry have warned workers about the specific chemical diacetyl because of the association between inhaling this chemical and debilitating respiratory diseases.

BOS has been termed “Popcorn Lung” because it first appeared in workers who inhaled artificial butter flavor in microwave popcorn manufacturing facilities.

The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and others have reported that exposure to diacetyl causes not only bronchiolitis obliterans, but other chronic lung diseases, such as hypersensitivity pneumonitis, granulomatosus disease, emphysema, asthma and interstitial lung disease. The chemical has been removed from most consumables in the United States.


Food Production Diacetyl


In May 2000, an occupational medicine physician reported eight cases of fixed obstructive lung disease in former workers of a microwave popcorn factory. All eight had a respiratory illness resembling bronchiolitis obliterans, and had worked at the same popcorn factory in durations ranging from 8 months to 9 years.

NIOSH evaluated the factory for respiratory hazards to workers, and concluded that workers exposed to flavorings at microwave popcorn factories are at risk for developing lung diseases.

Workers at coffee processing facilities also may face the same occupational hazard. NIOSH investigators published a report in 2013 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine about a health hazard evaluation at a coffee processing facility. Five former workers at a coffee processing facility that roasted, ground, and flavored coffee developed popcorn lung.


Vaping Lung Disease


In July, 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a directive to reduce tobacco-related disease with a new plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation that will serve to better protect children. The approach places nicotine at the center of the agency’s tobacco regulation efforts.

The FDA notes that e-cig and vaping devices can be helpful to the effort. However, a 2015 study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found diacetyl, a flavoring compound considered a respiratory hazard, was present in more than 75 percent of flavored electronic cigarettes and vaping liquids tested by researchers.

Several years ago, workers in a microwave popcorn factory were sickened by breathing in diacetyl, the popular flavoring chemical in popcorn and snack products. Studies have linked diacetyl to deaths and hundreds of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious and irreversible lung disease.

Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) is a form of chronic lung dysfunction in which the lungs deteriorate, and cause a myriad of severe symptoms. The deterioration in pulmonary function generally progresses despite therapy. No effective treatment has yet been established.

Major popcorn manufacturers have since removed diacetyl from certain products, but many people are still being exposed to diacetyl through e-cig vapor.

Joe Lyon is a highly-rated Cincinnati product liability attorney and Ohio personal injury lawyer representing plaintiffs nationwide in vaping injury lawsuits and severe respiratory illness cases.


Consumer Popcorn Lung


According to the EPA, popping microwave butter-flavor popcorn releases diacetyl into the air along with other potentially toxic chemicals. The study found that 80 percent of the chemical fumes escaped from a bag of microwave popcorn within the first seconds of opening.

Diacetyl has sickened hundreds of microwave popcorn plant workers, who have in turn developed Popcorn Lung (popcorn lung) which has killed at least three popcorn factory workers. Initial symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath.

In addition, at least one consumer fell ill from consuming popcorn and later filed a successful lawsuit against the manufacturers of the product. The Colorado man reportedly ate two bags of popcorn a day for more than 10 years and was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome.


Popcorn Lung Lawsuits


In 2009, a federal jury in Iowa awarded $7.5 million to a former worker in a microwavable popcorn facility. The worker’s attorneys said the flavoring ingredients caused his health problems.

A number of consumers have sued other microwave popcorn manufacturers, claiming chemicals in the popcorn flavoring lead to lung disease.
A Denver man, for example, won a $7.2 million verdict against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co. and Dillon Companies Inc., after developing BOS after claiming he consumed microwavable popcorn for years.

The man and his lawyers sued the popcorn maker and supermarkets, claiming the companies never warned consumers that diacetyl was dangerous.

Any former worker, or consumer of products that contains these dangerous chemicals may have a claim against a company for injury and damage as a result of exposure. Contact an experienced Ohio popcorn lung lawyer for legal assistance.


American Popcorn Lawsuits


Former and current employees of American Pop Corn Company production plants may be at risk of developing a serious lung disease due to artificial flavorings that were commonly used by most popcorn companies, including American Pop Corn.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is known to affect employees involved in production and packaging processes in pop corn facilities like American Pop Corn in Sioux City, Iowa. Medical Experts have identified diacetyl as a dangerous toxin, causing illnesses in many popcorn production workers.

However, health agencies and the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have not determined a safe amount or duration of exposure. As a result, many food and beverage companies have stopped using diacetyl as a flavoring agent.

The health effects may have already taken hold in many former workers at American Pop Corn Company, and the company may be held responsible for diacetyl-related illnesses and diseases.

American Pop Corn employees who faced diacetyl flavoring exposure may experience eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation. There is some medical evidence that occupational asthma may be associated with workplace exposure to certain flavorings like diacetyl.

Studies have shown an association with occupational exposure to certain flavorings and the development of bronchiolitis obliterans, a lung disease characterized by fixed airways obstruction.

Almost all of the known cases of “popcorn lung” have occurred in workers exposed to diacetyl flavorings in production and packaging plants. But consumers may also be exposed to food additive toxins. The following American Pop Corn Brands had diacetyl flavoring in the past:

  • Jolly Time
  • Blast O’ Butter
  • Butterlicious
  • Better Butter
  • White and Buttery
  • Crispy ‘n White
  • KettleMania
  • The Big Cheez
  • Mallow Magic
  • Sassy Salsa

Weaver Popcorn Lawsuits


Weaver Popcorn Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana recently stopped using diacetyl in its artificial butter flavoring because of pending lawsuits from consumers and food production workers around the country who claim the chemical is toxic.

Exposure can cause serious health problems like popcorn lung and other respiratory diseases including hypersensitivity pneumonitis, granulomatosus disease, emphysema, asthma and interstitial lung disease.

Workers at Weaver Popcorn Co. around the production and packaging areas where diacetyl was present may have been exposed to toxic fumes on a daily basis and developed a lung disease.

Affected workers may notice a gradual reduction of cough years after they are free from flavoring vapors, but abnormalities in lung function can persist. Medical attention is crucial, and following treatment legal action may be sought to investigate the cause of the illness.


Conagra Popcorn Lung


Any ConAgra employee working with artificial flavorings at the workplace may risk heavy exposure to toxins. Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome may initially cause a mild dry cough and develop into a continual shortness of breath as soon as two weeks after the first heavy exposure.

Microwave popcorn plant and flavored coffee plant workers have developed obstructive lung diseases such as a type of bronchiolitis called constrictive bronchiolitis obliterans. In bronchiolitis obliterans, the airways in the lungs become scarred and constricted, and block the movement of air.

The primary respiratory symptoms experienced by workers affected by obliterative bronchiolitis include dry coughing, wheezing, and a continual shortness of breath on exertion.

The severity of symptoms can range from mild to severe, and typically do not improve when a worker goes home at the end of the workday. These symptoms are gradual and progressive, though severe symptoms can occur suddenly. Some workers may experience a fever, sweating, and sudden weight loss.

Workers should seek medical evaluation if they have persistent cough, shortness of breath on exertion, frequent symptoms of eye, nose, throat, or skin irritation, or general decline in lung function. Affected workers may notice a gradual reduction of cough years after they are free from flavoring vapors, but abnormalities in lung function tests usually persist.

Several workers with related lung disease have been placed on lung transplant waiting lists. Medical attention is crucial, and following treatment legal action may be sought to investigate the cause of the illness.


General Mills and Diamond Food Lung Injury


Employees of General Mills or Diamond Food who have worked with artificial flavorings at the workplace may have faced heavy exposure to known toxins.

General Mills and Diamond Food workers that handled and packed Pop Secret popcorn products may have risked permanent lung injuries and illnesses, including popcorn lung syndrome, known as “popcorn lung disease” in the food production industry.

Artificial flavorings such as diacetyl were regularly used by diamond foods and general mills in popcorn mixtures until relatively recently. Pop Secret was previously manufactured by General Mills and then was purchased by the Diamond Foods Company in 2008—now under the ownership of Snyder’s-Lance.

Bronchiolitis obliterans in particular may initially cause a persistent cough and develop into a progressive shortness of breath soon after the first exposure on the job.

The lung disease is called “Popcorn Lung” by researchers because it was discovered in clusters of workers who inhaled artificial flavorings like diacetyl in popcorn facilities like General Mills and Diamond Food.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has warned that long-term exposure to diacetyl may cause popcorn lung disease and other chronic lung diseases like hypersensitivity pneumonitis, granulomatosus disease, emphysema, and asthma.


Coffee Roasting Lung Disease


Workers at coffee processing facilities across the country may be at risk of developing a dangerous lung disease called obliterative bronchiolitis, which scars the human lungs and causes chronic dysfunction.

Government investigators published a paper in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine about the specific health hazard at coffee processing facilities, including those plants producing flavored coffees and unflavored coffee beans.

Should coffee roasting companies ignore safety guidelines, they may be liable for exposing employees to known toxins and the injuries that may be sustained as a result on chronic exposure. NIOSH is working with a number of coffee processing facilities in determining safe limits of exposure, and further studies are underway.

In 2012, several workers at a coffee roasting plant in Texas were diagnosed with obliterative bronchiolitis. Following the incident, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) sent inspectors to investigate.

The CDC found high levels of diacetyl in the flavoring of certain roasted coffee beans. The highest concentrations of the toxic chemical were found in the flavoring room.

They also found levels of diacetyl in the grinding and packing areas where unflavored coffee beans were being processed. Diacetyl also occurs naturally from roasting coffee, and it is released in greater quantities during the grinding process.

A couple years after the Texas incident, NIOSH received many requests from coffee roasters around the country to have their facilities assessed. Researchers have found links between exposure to the chemical and a rare lung disease, but they are still trying to quantify how much exposure causes damage. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says there are no plans to make rules regulating popcorn lung in workplaces.

The management of some coffee processing plants are taking precautions against workplace exposure. As some popcorn companies replaced diacetyl with other flavorings, coffee roasters are considering a similar change to protect coffee roasting employees for the long term. The CDC recommends the following precautions:

  • Use a vacuum instead of sweeping up dust
  • Provide masks and respirators for workers
  • Workplace Ventilation Risks by installing exhaust piping over grinders, blenders and packagers
  • Keep an overhead exhaust fan operating continuously
  • Automate blending process to distance workers from chemicals
  • Consider alternative flavoring compounds
  • Institute a medical monitoring program

Coffee roasting companies have a responsibility to take precautions and protect workers. When they fail to protect coffee roasting employees, lawsuits may be filed and workers may seek compensation for injuries related to the workplace.

Coffee production plants have been under review by government health agencies after reports of workers developing a number of respiratory diseases including bronchiolitis obliterans, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, granulomatosus disease, emphysema, asthma and interstitial lung disease.

These occupational illnesses were first seen in microwaveable popcorn manufacturing employees exposed to diacetyl fumes at the workplace.


Symptoms of Popcorn Lung Disease


Bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (popcorn lung disease) usually presents with a serious cough and regular shortness of breath as soon as two weeks after diacetyl exposure. Specific symptoms of diacetyl-related lung diseases may include the following:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Pale or bluish appearance to the skin
  • Crackling or rattling sounds in the lungs
  • Fatigue
  • Chest that appears sunken while breathing
  • Quickened breathing at rest
  • Whooping cough

If you or a loved one has developed popcorn lung disease, and have questions about the legal remedies available to improve quality of life and medical care, contact The Lyon Firm at (800) 513-2403. You will speak directly with Mr. Lyon, and he will help you answer critical questions regarding popcorn lung disease lawsuits and compensation.