Chicago-based food-additives manufacturer Sensient Technologies Inc. recently announced that it will permanently close its Indianapolis, Ind., operations for “strategic business reasons” that are likely related to the company’s trouble with federal health authorities over its use of diacetyl, a chemical food additive that promotes lung disease when inhaled.
The Indianapolis Business Journal reports that the Sensient Technologies will move its Sensient Flavors LLC division out of Indiana beginning July 29, a move that will end employment for 86 workers. The company had moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago from Milwaukee in 2013, terminating about 125 employees then.
Sensient produces artificial colors, flavors and fragrances for a variety of products, including food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics. Among its products is diacetyl, a flavoring agent often used in margarine to give it a buttery flavor. Diacetyl is also commonly found in microwave popcorn and in vaping liquids used in electronic cigarettes.
Diacetyl, when inhaled in vapor form, can cause chronic, irreversible lung disease that can only be treated by a lung transplant. Many workers employed by factories that use diacetyl, including Sensient, have developed lung disease.
In 2008, federal investigators opened a probe at Sensient’s Chicago facilities in response to a union request for a health evaluation of the plant. Some of the workers claimed they had sustained serious respiratory injuries from working in the presence of diacetyl and sued the Sensient companies.
The federal health analysis found that nearly one-third of Sensient’s production workers had abnormally restrictive lung function, the Indianapolis Business Journal reported. OSHA fined Sensient $367,500 for violating federal health and safety codes.
Sensient’s response to the investigation was to file several lawsuits against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Indiana office and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, alleging it had been “harassed and intimidated” and “subjected to enormous intrusions” of its constitutional rights. The company eventually settled its case with the federal government for $99,000.
Source: Indiana Business Journal