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The trial of a popcorn lung lawsuit began in Colorado this week, involving a claim brought by a consumer who alleges that he developed the respiratory condition after eating bags of microwave popcorn every night for ten years.
The complaint was filed in 2007 by Wayne Watson, who was one of the first non-factory workers to bring a case over bronchiolitis obliterans, which has become more commonly known as “popcorn lung” because it may be caused by exposure to a chemical known as diacetyl, which was previously used to give microwave popcorn its buttery smell.
Most lawsuits filed over popcorn lung disease have been brought by microwave popcorn factory workers or those who working in plants where flavoring chemicals were produced.
Watson filed the lawsuit against King Soopers, alleging that the grocery store chain knew or should have known that selling microwave popcorn that used diacetyl could negatively affect the health of consumers. Popcorn factory workers had already won large verdicts against manufacturers over the problem in 2004-2005.
Diacetyl was used for years to give microwave popcorn its buttery smell before it was linked to popcorn lung. The microwave popcorn industry turned away from the additive once its links to popcorn lung disease became widely recognized and have used a variety of substitutes to duplicate its effects. However, diacetyl is still used as a food additive in some other industries.
Popcorn lung causes scarring and inflammation of small airways, known as bronchioles, leading to diminished lung capacity and breathing problems. The disease is irreversible and severe cases may require lung transplants and can lead to death.