Popcorn Packer's Lung Disease Found in Iowa

July 25, 2002
A worker at American Pop Corn Co. in Sioux City, Iowa has been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as "Popcorn Packer's Lung," which investigators from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) believe might be linked to inhaling the butter flavoring used for microwave popcorn.

The diagnosis follows an announcement made in April that an investigation of workers at the Glister-Mary Lee microwave popcorn plant in Jasper, Mo., turned up cases of what was an apparently new occupational disease. The announcement was made by a NIOSH team lead by Dr. Richard Kanwal that went to Jasper and locations in five other states, including Iowa, which manufacture similar products or use similar ingredients.

The employee at American Pop Corn Co. is reportedly suffering from a "light" case of the disease, which can be fatal and is irreversible. NIOSH is testing other workers at the facility for the illness.

Company Vice President Tom Elsen said the worker's illness was discovered when NIOSH investigators visited the facility following the Missouri investigation.

Researchers have speculated that diacetyl, a chemical in the butter flavoring used in many foods, including popcorn and some baked goods, is the cause of the illness.

(For more information, see the Occupationalhazards.com article, "NIOSH: Emergency of Possible New Occupational Disease.")

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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