Risk of Popcorn Lung Disease Results in New Safety Rules in California

California has passed new regulations in an effort to protect food production workers from chemicals that may cause bronciolitis obliterans, a respiratory condition more commonly known as popcorn lung disease

The new safety standards are designed to protect the state’s 400 flavoring factory workers from high concentrations of diacetyl, which occurs naturally in butter and alcoholic drinks, but has also been used to give certain products, like microwave popcorn, their buttery smell.

Nationwide, a number of popcorn factory workers have developed severe respiratory problems from exposure to diacetyl.

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Popcorn Lung Lawsuits

Lawsuits over lung disease linked to microwave popcorn butter flavoring chemical.


The new California regulations will require employers to take protective measures if their products use any concentrations of diacetyl of 1% or higher. They will be required to mark off areas where workers could become exposed, monitor and limit airborne exposure and will have to train workers to use respirators and other protective equipment if airborne concentrations exceed certain levels.

California is the first state to enact such legislation.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is more commonly known as “popcorn lung” because of its association with popcorn factory workers who developed the ailment after long-term exposure to diacetyl. The chemical was used to give microwave popcorn its buttery smell.

Popcorn lung is characterized by the scarring and inflammation of small airways, known as bronchioles, which leads to diminished lung capacity and breathing problems. The disease is irreversible and severe cases may require lung transplants and can lead to death.

More than 300 popcorn lung disease lawsuits have been filed nationwide, with most of those coming from employees of popcorn manufacturers. However, a growing number of popcorn consumers have been diagnosed with the disease and have filed lawsuits against companies that manufactured or used the flavoring.


  • SharonDecember 15, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    How would factory workers' health and the new California law be effected by the new product -- caffeine-infused buttered popcorn? Ethic soup has a post on this at: http://www.ethicsoup.com/2010/12/caffeinated-popcorn-the-latest-in-absurdities.html

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