WASHINGTON, April 24 — Seven years ago, a Missouri doctor discovered a troubling pattern at a microwave popcorn plant in the town of Jasper. After an additive was modified to produce a more buttery taste, nine workers came down with a rare, life-threatening disease that was ravaging their lungs....On diacetyl, Mr. Foulke said “the science is murky” on whether the additive causes bronchiolitis obliterans, the disease that has been called “popcorn worker’s lung.” That claim is echoed by some industry officials, but a number of leading scientists and doctors agree with scientists at the national occupational safety institute that there is strong evidence linking the additive to the illness...
Among those who testified Tuesday was Eric Peoples, a former worker at the popcorn plant in Jasper, a small town 125 miles south of Kansas City. Once healthy, the 35-year-old Mr. Peoples has been told by doctors that he will need a double-lung transplant. Far from Washington, he finds the debate over the calculus of regulation — the costs to companies and consumers of upgrading workplaces versus the possible health benefits to workers — baffling.
“I can’t understand what it would take to get them to pass rules to make it safer to handle this stuff,” Mr. Peoples said, referring to diacetyl. “Something needs to be done.”...It is added for the buttery taste in microwave popcorn and widely used as a flavoring agent in other foods, like snacks and pastries.
...Health experts have not raised alarms about diacetyl vapors that are released when consumers make microwave popcorn. But they note that there is little science on the issue, and the Environmental Protection Agency has declined to make public the results of its studies.