Second consumer in this country diagnosed with Popcorn Lung Disease
Today, in Spokane, Washington, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of a consumer injured by exposure to artificial butter flavor. Larry Newkirk of Spokane alleges that he suffers from a rare lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans or "popcorn lung" which has caused some exposed people to undergo lung transplants.
Previously, lawsuits involving so called "popcorn lung" were thought to be restricted to the workplace. In 2004 and 2005, verdicts of $20 million, $15 million, $15 million and $2.7 million were obtained in cases that arose at the Gilster Mary Lee microwave popcorn factory in Jasper, Missouri. Workers there were severely injured; ten were placed on lung transplant lists.
Kenneth McClain of Humphrey, Farrington & McClain in Independence, Missouri tried those lawsuits. His firm also represents Larry Newkirk. "This is new, but not surprising" said McClain. "Workers at the Jasper plant whose only job was to pop microwave popcorn in the quality control department got sick, so it's not surprising that someone like Mr. Newkirk could be at risk."
Newkirk brought his claim against ConAgra Foods, Bush Boake Allen, Inc., International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., Givaudan Flavors Corporation and Symrise Inc., who were involved in making the microwave popcorn or the butter flavor.
Mr. Newkirk became exposed while eating microwave popcorn. "Eating the popcorn is not what's at issue," added Steven Crick from Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, "it's breathing the fumes that cause the problem."
"Diacetyl has been shown to produce lung injury in laboratory animals," said Dr. David Egilman from Brown University Medical School. "And, when mixed with other chemicals in butter flavor more damage was caused."
As a result of these problems, major microwave popcorn brands like Orville Redenbacher and Pop Weaver have removed diacetyl, a ketone, from their formulations.
Experts therefore advise caution regarding these "new" butter flavors. "No one knows what's in them and to my knowledge no one has tested them" said Egilman. "Corporations and their front organizations have led people to believe that the government regulates 'everything.' This is just not so. Except for a few exceptions, the government lets companies regulate the things they sell that get added to food. Food is the wild west of regulation. As a result, we are just getting around to counting the bodies" said Egilman.
Kenneth B. McClain