Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Popcorn Lung Victim Dies: "Knowing That It Could Have been Avoided"

Linda Redman, 57, died Sunday from died after a long lung illness caused by her exposure to the popcorn butter flavoring chemical diacetyl. Redman was among thirty employes at a Missouri popcorn plant who sued International Flavors & Fragrances Inc. and its subsidiary, Bush Boake Allen Inc. for failing to warn the workers at the plant where the chemical was used of its dangers, even though they had information that it caused deadly lung damage.

In other words, Redman was but the latest victim of this nation's failure to overcome the power of the chemical industry and protect workers from hazardous chemicals.

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 Sheet that the International Flavors and Bush Boake Allen provided to Redman's employer stated that the chemical had "no known health hazards" and that respirators are "not normally required" for its butter flavoring, unless vapor concentrations were 'high.' "

I described her case over two years ago when the first lawsuits were filed:
Linda Redman started working as a packer at the Jasper popcorn plant in 1995, two years after the original study[that identified diacetyl's health effects]. 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.
Redman's sister, Donna Crampton, described the last year of her life:
"She said so many times she would give every penny of it for her health," Crampton said.

Redman worked at the plant for 18 months, starting in 1994 and leaving in 1996.

Crampton said Redman was in and out of the hospital "countless times" during the last year of her life, was bedridden for the last two months, and required round-the-clock nursing care for the last three weeks.

"The hardest thing of all to accept is knowing that it could have been avoided," Crampton said. "We're all pretty bitter."

Ken McClain, the attorney who represented the former and current popcorn workers, said Redman was one of the clients who had the most severe health problems at the time of her trial.

"We knew she would need a double lung transplant, but she continued to decline and was never healthy enough to go through the procedure," he said.
There are no government regulations to prevent exposure to diacetyl and Baltimore Sun journalist Andrew Schneider revealed a couple of weeks ago that OSHA has refused to consider regulating exposure to the chemical despite recommendations by the agency's scientists.

More popcorn lung articles here.