Kia Franklin

Popcorn Lung Disease…

burntpopcorn.jpg I’m a healthy eater, but by no means am I a health nut. When I go to the movies, you can bet that in my nine dollar bag of popcorn, there’s gonna be a substantial pool of buttery goodness and salt. The last movie I saw was Michael Clayton, about a lawyer who discovered that the company he was defending in a class action lawsuit was knowingly distributing a product that was causing cancer. The timing of this movie and recent media attention to the Popcorn Lung disease is eerie. Next time I’m at home watching a DVD, I will most definitely opt for a different snack instead of the buttery microwave pop-corn that mimics the movies’ offering.

This Washington Post article discusses poisonous popcorn fumes that have caused serious lung disease and even death to workers at microwave popcorn factories and to regular consumers of the product. What has me fuming about this is the fact that it wasn't until a few weeks ago that OSHA made any significant moves to protect microwave popcorn factory employees and consumers, although federal regulators have known since 2000 that diacetyl, a chemical in the popcorn, was causing irreversible damage to people’s health. From the Post:

Federal regulators have known since 2000 that diacetyl was suspected of increasing incidences of a disease called bronchiolitis obliterans in workers who inhaled it. The condition, now known as popcorn lung disease, causes irreversible damage to the airways.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found links between the disease and the chemical. The problem seemed to intensify, industry experts said, after popcorn makers started using extra-buttery and theater-style popcorn in the 1990s, increasing workers' exposure to the chemical.

OSHA said it knows of almost 100 cases of the disease. A woman who worked at a Missouri microwave popcorn plant died last year after a long lung illness and bringing suit against a flavor manufacturer.

The folks over at The Pump Handle have covered OSHA’s minimalist approach to consumer/employee health and safety extensively. Kudos to them for alerting their readers to the Post article as well.

Until Congress recently took up this issue and began exerting pressure on OSHA to take more concrete steps to protect workers, employees injured by the dangerous chemical relied on the civil court system for protection/compensation. But with over 100 undisclosed settlements over the chemical and only a handful of public verdicts in favor of employees, the public benefit of such lawsuits has been relatively minimal. This is my biggest gripe with confidentiality agreements in matters affecting public health and safety. It is yet another way that corporate power can esape public scrutiny and can continue harming people with impunity.

We'll be keeping track of this issue as updates arise.

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Posted at 1:15 PM, Oct 09, 2007 in Civil Justice | Consumer Rights | Under Regulation | Workplace Safety
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