Popcorn Lung, or bronchiolitis obliterans, is a disorder that occurs primarily in workers during the manufacturing of microwaveable popcorn and other butter-flavored foods. However, there have been some cases of consumer illness from ingesting a large amount of the snack food. The disease has spawned two rounds of lawsuits against manufacturers of butter flavorings.
Popcorn Lung is a life-threatening, irreversible ailment and the only known cure is a lung transplant. Named bronchiolitis obliterans, the disorder inflames the small airways in the lungs, or bronchioles, and scars and “obliterates” healthy airflow.
Originally, lawsuits were filed against the Jasper Popcorn Co. plant in 2006 on behalf of 44 Plaintiffs alleging that the butter flavors that were being manufactured contained a chemical known as diacetyl, which can cause dangerous and sometimes fatal lung disease.
Many defendants were brought in, including International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. (IFF), Bush Boake Allen (BBA), and Givaudan Flavors. Aldrich Chemical Co. and Sigma-Aldrich Inc. supplied IFF and BBA with acetaldehyde, a chemical in the butter flavoring. The acetaldehyde increases the danger of exposure to diacetyl. However, Aldrich Chemical Co. and Sigma-Aldrich Inc. have since been dropped from the suit.
While the original lawsuits consisted of 44 Plaintiffs, the number has dropped to only 11, with trial dates expected next year. The remaining Plaintiffs were unable to prove that the illness occurred while working, or residing near, the plant.
In 2002, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health identified 117 plant workers who had been diagnosed with abnormal lung conditions. Hundreds more may have been subjected to the chemical without their knowledge.
As of March 2010, over 300 lawsuits have been filed across the country and over 100 cases have been settled. The cases span a broad range, from those working with popcorn and flavoring, individuals who reside near the plants where flavorings are being used, and even include five consumers of the microwaveable popcorn who were diagnosed with Popcorn Lung.
Unfortunately, diacetyl is not listed as an ingredient on packaging (only “butter flavoring”), so consumers have no way of knowing if the ingredient is in the product or how they might protect themselves from exposure. While some of the larger manufacturers, such as ConAgra, have stopped using diacetyl, the chemical has been found in thousands of products, not just microwaveable popcorn. Butter-flavored cooking oils, cake mixes, and even frozen foods are just some of the products that have been found to contain the chemical.
If you or someone you love has worked in the snack industry or has been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, known as Popcorn Lung, contact our office. We will advise you whether it would be in your best interest to file a personal injury claim. We will also provide you with a free consultation of your case and work to ensure that you receive full compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering, and even lost wages.