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.
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. Monogram Foods workers may also be at risk if working in a facility using diacetyl.
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.
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:
Toxic exposure cases help empower employees to fight for their right to be protected, satisfactorily informed, and to stay safe. They also bring awareness to challenge and higher the expectations of companies who are not serving their employees justly.