7 New Cases of 'Popcorn Workers Lung'
Workers in Flavor-Manufacturing Plants Affected by Lung Disease
April 26, 2007 -- The CDC reports seven cases of a potentially deadly lung
disease known as "popcorn workers lung" at four California flavor
The disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, is a rare and life-threatening form
of fixed obstructive lung disease, says the CDC. Obstructive lung disease makes it difficult
for air to flow out of the lungs. In fixed obstructive lung disease,
this difficulty is not reversible.
The CDC reports no known risk to consumers.
"Food flavorings are designated 'generally recognized as safe' when
approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; flavorings are not known to
put consumers at risk for lung disease," states the CDC.
The CDC describes the seven cases, which occurred between 2002 and 2006, in
its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Six of the seven affected workers handled chemicals including diacetyl when
mixing flavorings. The seventh worker packaged powdered flavorings.
Insufficient ventilation at the factories and inadequate paper dust masks
worn by six of the seven workers may have been an issue, according to the CDC's
Studies have shown that diacetyl is a lung hazard in animals. No limits have
been set for safe occupational exposure to diacetyl and many other flavoring
chemicals, notes the CDC.
The seven affected workers were all lifelong nonsmokers. One had had asthma
as a child.
Their symptoms included cough, wheezing, or shortness of breath on exertion.
Those symptoms began between one month and five years of working at the flavor
The risk of occupational lung disease has previously been identified in the
microwave popcorn industry, which has made improvements to address the problem,
says the CDC.
The same occupational risk hasn't been established in other food-flavoring
production workplaces, according to the CDC.