Friday, November 25, 2005

Take four bulldozers and put them on your chest. Then put an elephant on top of those bulldozers.

That's how Gerald Morgan describes trying to breathe with lungs irreversably damaged by popcorn butter flavoring chemical, diacetyl. Morgan requires 24-hour breathing assistance:
"I’ve got oxygen tubes stuffed up my nose all the time," said Morgan, 56. "You don’t get enough oxygen to do anything.

"I hardly leave my house anymore."
Settlements have now been reached in the 57 lawsuits filed by former workers of the Glister-Mary Lee popcorn plant against th maker of diacetyl, International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. Fifty four cases were settled and four cases involving seven plaintiffs resulted in jury verdicts totaling nearly $53 million.

The trials had shown that International Flavors and Fragrances and Bush Boake Allen, the manufacturers of the diacetyl had known that their butter flavoring was hazardous, but failed to warn the workers at the plant where the chemical was used of the dangers or provide adequate safety instructions.

The workers' lawyers introduced testimony showing that tests done as far back as 1993 indicated that diacetyl could cause severe lung damage and, they noted, workers at the factory that made the chemical wore respirators, unlike the workers at the popcorn plant who had insufficient warning of the dangers of the chemical. The Material Safety Data Sheet given to the popcorn factory had contained the phrases "no known health hazards" and "respiratory protection is not normally required."

This brings to an end the lawsuits against IFF, but it's only one small chapter in the stuggle of American workers' for the right to work safely with chemicals. Battles are still to be fought against industry-led "tort reform" campaigns that would weaken the ability of workers and consumers to sue the manufacturers of harmful products. There are battles to be fought against those who are trying to "manufacture doubt" in the little science we have that attempts to identify harmful chemicals before they sicken and kill workers. And there are battles being fought in Europe (battles that will hopefully be fought and won here, at home) about whether government regulators should continue to consider toxic chemicals to be innocent until proven guilty.

And without the possibility of lawsuits or a significant change in the chemical approval and regulatory practice, what are workers left with? A paltry workers comp payment and an apology from the manufacturer? In the case of diacetyl, we didn't even get the apology. Instead, we just get statements from IFF that "Our product is safe when used as directed (you stupid workers who obviously didn't use as directed)"

Even winning lawsuits and settlements are poor consolation for a man's lungs. As Morgan said, regarding the settlement: “I’d rather have my health back.”

More on popcorn lung here.