Academic studies have shown a strong connection between the food flavoring diacetyl and the rare but life threatening disease bronchiolitis obliterans that has disproportionately hit workers who handle diacetyl in the manufacture of microwave popcorn and food flavorings. In fact, bronchiolitis obliterans has has been nick-named “popcorn workers” disease. Flavoring manufacturers have already paid out millions in settlements to microwave popcorn plant workers sickened by the disease, who often require lung transplants.
Based on case studies of fixed obstructive lung disease among workers in the flavor-manufacturing industry in California
one California legislator has introduced legislation to ban the use of diacetyl.
It’s about time. As one expert notes in the Washington Post story about the proposed law:
“They’re finding it there because they’re looking there,” said David Michaels of the department of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University. Michaels, assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration, accuses OSHA of “regulatory paralysis.”
“It’s not some carcinogen where you get cancer 30 years from now or something. The people are dying right in front of you,” Michaels said. “You can’t wait until you have all the evidence. You have to regulate it.”
Why it has taken this long for governments to regulate use of the chemical in the workplace is a sad mystery, but it is encouraging that the State of California is not waiting for OSHA but is moving ahead with its own legislation.