But after reading this little tidbit by the American Council on Science and Health, I'm starting to worry....
One familiar (and sometimes effective) tactic that the chemical industry uses to defend its hazardous products is to claim that everything causes cancer, and the everything is bad for you if you eat, drink or inhale too much of it. Even too much water can kill you, after all. In other words don't let those activists scare you.
A corollary is that lots of things that those activists say are going to kill you occur naturally, in nature, in fact, they're practically organic.
So after writing reviewing Andrew Schneider's article earlier this week about the ravaged lungs of popcorn and other food workers from exposure to the butter-flavoring chemical diacetyl, it was with great interest that I read this emission from the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), which has good news for popcorn lovers:
A chemical, diacetyl, found naturally in butter and other foods, has been found to cause a fatal and rapidly-progressing lung disorder when it is present in the air at high concentrations in occupational settings. The connection to popcorn is that diacetyl is used in products like microwave popcorn (and some movie theater popcorn machines) to provide butter flavor.ACSH,by the way, is an chemical industry funded "a consumer education consortium concerned with issues related to food, nutrition, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, lifestyle, the environment and health."
The diacetyl story is a prime example of what ACSH has pointed out for years (see our reports on carcinogens, activists, and natural chemicals in your holiday dinner menu): while high doses of a chemical may impair health, the typical doses that consumers encounter in their foods or through other environmental contacts pose no risk.
OK, now there are a few point that seem to be slightly distorted here. Just off the top of my head.
- Yes, diacetyl is found naturally in butter, but the diacetyl that's killing workers by destroying their lungs is man-made. (And "naturally" doesn't make something good. After all, asbestos occurs "naturally" as well)
- "The typical doses that consumers encounter in their foods or through other environmental contacts pose no risk." This is probably true. On the other hand, no one has really tested it. NIOSH "is not aware of any evidence to suggest danger to consumers in the preparation and consumption of microwave popcorn." NIOSH doesn't say there is no danger. The agency says it "is not aware of any evidence to suggest danger." Two different things. In 2004, EPA announced that it would study the type and amount of chemicals emitted from microwave popcorn bags and possible health effect on consumers. The study was supposed to be completed last year, but I haven't heard anything. Meanwhile, I'm telling my kids not to stick their heads in the bag of popcorn.
- "While high doses of a chemical may impair health, the typical doses that consumers encounter in their foods or through other environmental contacts pose no risk." This may also be true. On the other hand, the fact that a chemical can cause serious harm at a high dose over a relatively short period of time, does not mean that it can't cause serious harm at low doses over a longer period of time.