Popcorn Lung Lawsuits Filed for Bronchiolitis Obliterans (Popcorn Lung Disease)

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Attorney Jessie Paluch, founder of TruLaw, has over 25 years of experience as a personal injury and mass tort attorney, and previously worked as an international tax attorney at Deloitte. Jessie collaborates with attorneys nationwide — enabling her to share reliable, up-to-date legal information with our readers.

This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy and clarity by the team of writers and legal experts at TruLaw and is as accurate as possible. This content should not be taken as legal advice from an attorney. If you would like to learn more about our owner and experienced injury lawyer, Jessie Paluch, you can do so here.

TruLaw does everything possible to make sure the information in this article is up to date and accurate. If you need specific legal advice about your case, contact us by using the chat on the bottom of this page. This article should not be taken as advice from an attorney.

Intro to the Popcorn Lung Lawsuits

For more than 10 years, the flavoring chemical diacetyl has been the subject of a growing number of national Popcorn Lung Lawsuits (Diacetyl Lawsuits) arising from the 2000 discovery of respiratory disease in nine workers at a Missouri microwave popcorn processing plant.

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Dubbed “popcorn lung,” this respiratory disease arising from diacetyl exposure caused workers to exhibit chest symptoms including shortness of breath and poor lung function.

These employees were subsequently diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, a non-reversible respiratory disease that results in the scarring of the bronchioles.

Table of Contents

What is Diacetyl?

Diacetyl is a hazardous chemical used in manufacturing facilities throughout the United States.

Diacetyl is a flavoring agent that is considered safe to eat but potentially hazardous when inhaled.

It is used to produce a variety of flavors in foods, particularly dairy flavors like butter and cheese, and brown flavors like caramel and butterscotch.

It is also one of the several chemicals used to flavor some of the 7,000 varieties of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) currently on the market.

Diacetyl occurs naturally in some foods, such as dairy products, beer, and wine.

Due to its potential for causing respiratory illness, diacetyl has been largely phased out of the artificial flavoring industry and replaced with acetyl propionyl (AP).

Although AP (like diacetyl) is approved for use in food, some researchers have raised questions about the potential toxicity of AP inhalation due to structural similarities between the two chemicals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expressed concern that AP and diacetyl could be equally toxic.

Diacetyl Side Effects

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated that it is safe to consume diacetyl in trace amounts, it is important to note that the FDA and the CDC do not state that it is safe to heat and inhale.

Ingesting small quantities of Diacetyl is very different than heating and inhaling the toxic chemical.

Inhaling Diacetyl can lead to scar tissue build-up in the lungs, blocking airflow and potentially damaging the lungs permanently.

Although diacetyl affects mainly the lungs, can also affect the eyes, nose, throat, and skin gradually or suddenly, depending on the degree of exposure.

Diacetyl & E-Cigarrettes

There is little research currently available on the potential adverse health effects associated with inhaling the flavorings in e-liquids, but attention is now turning to the damage that the diacetyl used to flavor e-cigarettes is doing to consumers, particularly younger ones who may be more susceptible to toxic exposure.

There are currently no requirements for manufacturers to indicate whether e­liquids contain diacetyl or AP, and the only requirement is that ENDS products must contain a nicotine warning statement.

There also are no applicable standards for the composition of e­liquids, including no governmental recommendations or restrictions on diacetyl and AP levels in e­liquids.

Bronchiolitis Obliterans or "Popcorn Lung"

Bronchiolitis obliterans is an extremely serious, non-reversible, and obstructive lung disease in which the bronchioles of the lungs are blocked by the growth of fibrous tissue.

This causes inflammation in the lungs and results in scarring and hardening of the tissue and obstruction of the airway.

Considered to be a “flavorings-related” condition, bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by the inhalation of airborne diacetyl.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is often referred to in the media as “Popcorn Lung” because it was first widely reported in workers in popcorn manufacturing plants.

This name is now a misnomer since bronchiolitis obliterans has also been diagnosed in workers of coffee plants, animal feed plants, bakeries, candy factories, tortilla manufacturers and other facilities using flavorings in the production of the end product.

Misdiagnosis of Bronchiolitis Obliterans

Bronchiolitis obliterans is difficult to diagnose and to treat. Chest x-rays and CT scans are part of the diagnostic process, but neither is conclusive.

Open lung biopsy is required in order to make a definitive diagnosis, meaning that a portion of the lung must be removed and studied.

Although bronchiolitis obliterans is not reversible, there are treatment options.

Steroids can help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms, and studies have shown that inhaled cyclosporine can increase the amount of air that is exhaled, which can decrease trapped air and provide better lung capacity to bronchiolitis obliterans victims.

The following diagnoses show similar symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans and can lead to a misdiagnosis.

If you or a loved one has worked in the manufacturing of food or flavoring products and you have been diagnosed with one of the following diseases, it is worth investigating to see if exposure occurred at work:

  • Asbestosis
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Bronchiolitis
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • Chronic Pneumonia
  • COPD
  • Emphysema
  • Lung Cancer
  • Mesothelioma
  • Primary Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Primary Arterial Hypertension
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
  • Pulmonary Vascular Disease
  • Pertussis
  • Silicosis
  • Sarcoidosis

Popcorn Lung Lawsuits

Since the discovery of popcorn lung, popcorn lung lawsuits have been filed by microwave popcorn processing workers, employees of flavoring companies who used diacetyl as an ingredient, and consumers who claim to have developed a respiratory disease as a result of cooking and eating microwave popcorn in their homes.

Recent popcorn lung lawsuits allege harm to workers in coffee processing facilities.

Studies have shown that diacetyl and acetyl propionyl are naturally processed and released during the coffee roasting process, and the subsequent grinding of roasted coffee releases significant concentrations of these chemicals into the air.

There have been at least two lawsuits filed against e­cigarette manufacturers alleging failure to disclose the presence of diacetyl/AP in e-liquids and to warn of their associated risks.

Both were putative class actions alleging consumer fraud­based claims filed in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California.

Written By:
Jessie Paluch
Jessie Paluch

Experienced Attorney & Legal SaaS CEO

With over 25 years of legal experience, Jessie is an Illinois lawyer, a CPA, and a mother of three.  She spent the first decade of her career working as an international tax attorney at Deloitte.

In 2009, Jessie co-founded her own law firm with her husband – which has scaled to over 30 employees since its conception.

In 2016, Jessie founded TruLaw, which allows her to collaborate with attorneys and legal experts across the United States on a daily basis. This hypervaluable network of experts is what enables her to share reliable legal information with her readers!

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