Lawsuits involving claims of bronchiolitis obliterans linked to diacetyl exposure are on the rise as more and more people are coming forward claiming their lung disease was caused by inhalation of the chemical.
Bronchiolitis obliterans is a serious lung disease in which the smallest airways of the lungs become permanently blocked by excess scar tissue. It is often misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema or even pneumonia because the symptoms are similar, with a patient coughing, wheezing, experiencing shortness of breath and fatigue. The only treatment for bronchiolitis obliterans is a lung transplant.
The disease has been heavily linked to diacetyl, a chemical used for artificial flavoring in foods such as popcorn to give a smooth, buttery flavor. It can also be found in e-cigarette juices.
The chemical attracted a lot of attention in 2000 when eight cases of bronchiolitis obliterans was diagnosed in the same popcorn plant. For this reason, the disease is also known as “popcorn lung.” In 2002, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reported that workers who mixed butter flavorings at microwave popcorn plants had an increased rate of lung disease.
Wayne Watson was awarded $7.2 million in 2013 for lung injuries he claimed were caused by exposure to microwave popcorn he prepared in his home.
A California jury reached a $2.6 million verdict against Citrus and Allied Essences, Ltd. in favor of Tanu Vatuvei, a man who developed bronchiolitis obliterans after exposure to diacetyl while working at a food flavoring factory.
As of 2007, flavoring manufacturers have paid more than $100 million to workers because of lawsuits brought on by claims of popcorn lung. California is considering a bill that will ban its use in the state.