Sunday, May 02, 2004

Second Popcorn Lung Trial Ends

The second trial of a worker whose lungs were seriously damaged by inhaling popcorn butter flavoring containing the chemical diacetyl has ended. Linda Redman, an employee at the Jasper Popcorn Co. and Glister Mary-Lee Corp., which bought the popcorn factory in 1999, is suing International Flavors and Fragrance Inc. and its subsidiary, Bush Boake Allen Inc.

In March, a jury awarded Eric Peoples, another worker at the factory, $20 million for the damage caused to his lungs. Like Peoples, Redman will soon need a lung transplant. Redman's story was detailed in an NPR story and in an earlier article:
Linda Redman started working as a packer at the Jasper popcorn plant in 1995, two years after the original study. Within two years, her breathing was so bad that she had to quit.

Redman used to work 12 hours a day and then come home to garden, cook dinner, and do her family's laundry. Now, she lives alone in Joplin, relying on home health nurses four days a week to help with basic chores around the house.

Redman, 55, doesn't have the stamina to change her bedsheets or cook herself dinner, unless it's something out of a can.

Only 15 percent of her lung capacity remains. Redman bides her time while waiting for a lung transplant by taking breathing treatments every four hours. She is constantly tethered to an oxygen tank, but she still gets exhausted walking from the bedroom to the couch.

"There's no amount of money that can ever buy back what we've lost - our health," Redman said of herself and the other sick workers. "There's a couple of us I don't think can make it much longer."
Of course, now it turns out, according to the companies that make diacetyl, that the chemical really isn't harmful
Testifying Thursday, Michael Wernke, a toxicologist with Blasland, Bouck & Lee Inc. a New York consulting company, said there is not enough scientific proof to conclude that the butter flavoring caused the lung disease in the popcorn plant workers.

He said a study just completed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health on the effects of diacetyl on rats showed that it did not cause lung disease in the animals. Wernke said the study released last month showed that diacetyl had no adverse health effects on rats that received the smallest amount of exposure.

He said the two groups of rats that received the next-highest dosage showed some upper-respiratory problems but no evidence of lung disease.
Isn't that nice.

Brown University Professor David Egilman, who testified in the first popcorn lung trial, disagrees. "Egilman said the rats were exposed to diacetyl for only six hours, comparing that to having a person smoke just one cigarette and then saying the subject suffered no ill effects from smoking."

Previous postings about the popcorn lung trials can be found under Greatest Hits on the upper right column of this page. To recap, however, studies had shown since the early 1990's that diacetyl could cause severe lung damage and that information was known to the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association. Yet the Material Safety Data Sheets that the International Flavors and Glister provided to Redman's and People's employer did not adequately warn of the danger and stated that respirators "are not normally required for its butter flavoring, unless vapor concentrations were 'high.' "

Thirty people who worked at the plant have filed suit.