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Almost five years ago, popcorn manufacturers – Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret, and Jolly Time banned diacetyl from their popcorn after several lawsuits were filed alleging employees were suffering from “popcorn lung.” Gilster-Mary Lee plant Jasper, Mo. was the only large popcorn manufacturer that did not.

What is popcorn lung?

The medical term for popcorn lung is bronchiolitis obliterans; it is a respiratory disease which causes scarring in the lungs and breathing difficulties. The term popcorn lung came about because microwave popcorn plant workers are the most susceptible. Popcorn lung is nonreversible and can be fatal; it is frequently misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema.

What are the symptoms of popcorn lung?

  • Scarring and hardening of lung tissue
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Fever

How does someone get popcorn lung?

The disease occurs from inhaling large quantities of a chemical in popcorn, called diacetyl, an artificial flavoring used to give popcorn that buttery taste and smell.

Who is most susceptible to suffering from popcorn lung?

Popcorn lung is usually found in plant workers exposed to high levels of diacetyl. Injuries from diacetyl have also been found in employees of other manufacturing plants – tortillas, food spray, corn syrup, candy, frozen foods and several snacks and pastries – that use butter flavored products.

It has been proven that using high levels of diacetyl in manufacturing plants can be toxic to workers, but, what about consumers? More specifically, what is the effect of consumers eating and/or cooking with diacetyl? A man who ate two bags of microwave popcorn a day for 10 years filed a lawsuit alleging he contracted the respiratory disease from inhaling the artificial butter smell of the microwave popcorn. The lawsuit claims that the popcorn manufacturer and the supermarket chain that sold it were negligent because they failed to put warnings on labels on the popcorn advising consumers of the dangers of diacetyl. A jury awarded the man $7.2 million; Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation was found 80 percent liable, and the King Soopers Supermarket, and its parent company, Kroger, responsible for 20 percent. Although the Gilster-Mary Lee argued that millions of customers safely used microwave popcorn, the defendant can’t deny that in 2004, another jury awarded a $32 million settlement to an employee who developed popcorn lung; 29 other employees have pending claims. The Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation finally removed diacetyl from its microwavable popcorn between 2007 and 2008.

Following this case, it was found that a Blockbuster video employee was in need of a lung transplant as a result of popping 30 bags of microwave popcorn for five years in a small backroom of the store. The quick math tells you that his exposure is 6 bags per year. How many of you are exposed to 6 bags of microwave popcorn per year?

Some experts say that microwave popcorn probably poses little risk in moderation, while others have raised concerns about chemicals used to coat the microwave bags that keep oil from soaking through and make the bags more fire resistant. These chemicals break down when heated into perfluorooctinoic acid, or PFOA. Dean Bill Chamdeides of the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, reported that exposure to PFOA has been linked to cancer and other health risks. Chameides says eating as little as one bag of microwave popcorn a week gives you enough PFOA that it shows up on blood tests. What about the substitutes that are now being used for diacetyl? Evidence is surfacing that these substitutes may also cause popcorn lung. Ken McClain, attorney for the plaintiff awarded $7.2 million, says “The problem is that the public doesn't know what chemicals have replaced diacetyl, or the effects of diacetyl in other products. Why is no one testing these products? “This is a big experiment to run on people.”

Mark Bello has thirty-five years experience as a trial lawyer and thirteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice and Public Citizen, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.

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