Factory Workers and Bronchiolitis Obliterans
Workers in several factories that manufacture artificial butter flavoring have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as Popcorn Lung or Popcorn Workers Lung. Bronchiolitis obliterans is a very serious, non-reversible, obstructive lung disease in which the bronchioles of the lungs are blocked by the growth of fibrous tissue, causing inflammation in the lungs, resulting in scarring and hardening of the tissue, which leads to obstruction of the airway. Although this fatal lung disease has been termed Popcorn Lung, damages are being found in workers at plants that manufacture other types of butter flavored products, such as tortillas, corn syrup, candy, and frozen foods.
Bronchiolitis obliterans has been known to be caused by the inhalation of airborne diacetyl, a chemical flavoring agent used to produce the artificial buttery taste in many foods such as candy and microwave popcorn. It is a yellowish liquid in its pure form and is a normal by-product of fermentation.
Since obstruction of the airways can make breathing difficult, the main symptoms of popcorn lung are a hardening of the lung tissue, dry cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Often air gets trapped in the lungs due to inflammation, causing the lungs to become filled. This overinflation limits the ability to breathe in fresh, oxygenated air. Because of these symptoms, bronchiolitis obliterans is frequently misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema. Other symptoms can include fatigue, fever, night sweats, peeling skin and weight loss. The symptoms can start gradually, taking place over a period of months to years, or severe symptoms can occur suddenly. Unfortunately, these health problems cannot be reversed and the most serious cases of popcorn lung disease are life-threatening.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Specifically, popcorn factory workers who inhaled diacetyl in the form of vapors, dusts, or sprays over long periods of time are most at risk for brochiolitis obliterans. There are many different types of flavorings and most have not been tested for respiratory toxicity. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food additives for safety when eaten, but it does not require testing by other methods of occupational exposure, such as inhalation. In addition, there are numerous industrial toxins that have been linked to popcorn lung disease. Polyamide-amine dyes used in textile printing, thionyl chloride fumes inhaled by workers in battery factories and any industry that expose workers to nitrogen dioxide, ammonia, chlorine, or hydrogen fluoride are at a great risk. Additionally, people who consume extremely large amounts of popcorn may also be in danger.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is difficult to both diagnose and treat. Chest x-rays and CT scans are part of the procedure, but neither is conclusive. In order to arrive at a definite diagnosis an invasive, open lung biopsy is needed, which means that a portion of the lung is removed and studied.
Popcorn lung disease is not reversible, however there are treatment options. First of all, steroids can help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms. Next, a new study showed that inhaled cyclosporine can increase the amount of air that is exhaled, which can decrease the trapped air and provide better lung capacity to popcorn lung victims. In addition, there are medications that can slow progression and treat symptoms, however in some cases, a lung transplant may be the only option, however it is complex and often popcorn lung disease patients will be on the transplant list for years. Unfortunately, once the patient receives a lung transplant, that does not guarantee a cure, especially if the body rejects the new donor lung.
Currently, the FDA still considers diacetyl to be safe for manufacturing and consumption, however there are obvious concerns about inhaling large amounts. There are no existing warnings issued despite the known connections between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans. Diacetyl is a dangerous substance that is exposed to factory workers and consumers. Exposure to it leaves workers and consumers with a severe, disabling and potentially fatal lung disease. Without the capability to make an educated decision about the products used in our food, worker and consumer health has been placed entirely in the hands of corporations that are motivated by profit, not safety.
Workers have a right to a safe workplace, and the law requires employers to provide such. If you or a loved one has developed bronchiolitis obliterans as a result of diacetyl exposure, you have valuable legal rights. Popcorn lung lawsuits have resulted in millions of dollars of compensation being awarded to factory workers diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans. With over forty years of experience, Madeksho Law Firm, PLLC has an extensive understanding of toxic substance cases such as diacetyl exposure. Contact them today for a free consultation.