First Consumer Diagnosed with Popcorn Lung Disease
Today in Denver the first lawsuit was filed on behalf of a consumer injured by artificial butter flavor. Wayne Watson of Denver made national news when doctors at National Jewish Hospital in Denver diagnosed him with bronchiolitis obliterans or "popcorn lung" in February, 2007. Dr. Cecile Rose who has consulted for the flavoring industry made the startling announcement on national news programs such as NBC's Today show and ABC's Good Morning America.
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 Wayne Watson. "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. Watson could be at risk."
Watson brought his claim again Dillon Companies, Inc., which operates King Soopers grocery store and Inter-American Products, Inc. which distributed the popcorn. Watson purchased a store-brand microwave popcorn at King Soopers. Both companies are owned by The Kroger Company which was also named. Kroger has refused to disclose who made the store-brand microwave popcorn.
Mr. Watson reportedly ate two bags of popcorn a day. "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."
As a result of these problems, major microwave popcorn brands like Orville Redenbacher and Pop Weaver have removed diacetyl, a ketone, from their formulations.
"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."
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
David Egilman, M.D.