Occupational Exposures to Flavorings

Flavorings are substances that alter or enhance the taste of food. Workers in the food-manufacturing industry, where flavorings are added to many products, may be exposed to any number of flavoring compounds. Microwave popcorn plant workers as well as flavoring plant workers have developed obstructive lung disease, which can be very severe.
Obliterative Bronchiolitis

Obliterative bronchiolitis (also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, constrictive bronchiolitis, or popcorn workers lung), a deadly and irreversible form of obstructive lung disease, was found in many cases. When a person suffers from this condition, the small airways in the lungs, also known as the bronchioles, become constricted and narrowed by scar tissue and/or inflammation. This results in partial or complete destruction of the airways. Due to its severity, it is often fatal.

Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act (Diacetyl)

“In September 2007, the House of Representatives approved a measure to prevent workers in food processing plants from getting a debilitating, irreversible lung disease that has already sickened and killed a number of workers nationwide. The Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act would force the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue rules limiting workers’ exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial food flavoring for microwave popcorn and other foods. Scientists have linked diacetyl exposure to bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe lung disease often known as “popcorn lung.” (http://democrats.edworkforce.house.gov/popcorn-workers-lung-disease-prevention-act-diacetyl).

Symptoms

A number of studies have documented obstructive airway disease among employees exposed to airborne butter flavoring chemicals. The scientific community first became aware of flavoring-related obstructive airway disease in 2000 after a “case cluster” was identified at a microwave popcorn production plant. Subsequent analyses at microwave popcorn production plants demonstrated higher occurrences of respiratory symptoms. The main respiratory symptoms experienced by workers affected by obliterative bronchiolitis include chronic cough, wheezing, and worsening shortness of breath on exertion. Usually these symptoms are gradual in onset and progressive, but severe symptoms can occur suddenly. Some employees exposed to butter flavoring have also experienced eye, skin, nose, and throat irritation. Because some symptoms, such as fever, night sweats, and weight loss, resemble those of asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, or emphysema, many workers are often misdiagnosed.