In 2003, several workers at a Marion, Ohio, microwave popcorn facility filed a lawsuit against the manufacturers of butter flavoring used in microwave popcorn. They, like workers in other popcorn plants throughout the country, were suffering from lung problems caused by a dangerous chemical in popcorn flavoring. Together with nationally-recognized co-counsel, Robert E. Sweeney Co., LPA represented these Marion workers. Robert E. Sweeney Co., LPA filed the first microwave popcorn flavoring lawsuit in Ohio, and the second in the nation. In that time, Robert E. Sweeney Company’s microwave popcorn flavoring practice has grown from those few workers in Marion, to hundreds of workers out of four facilities in two states.
Here are answers to common questions about the growing epidemic of “butter lung” or “popcorn lung”:
What exactly is “popcorn lung?” “Popcorn lung” or “butter lung” is the term used to commonly refer to lung diseases caused by butter flavorings. These flavorings cause a range of diseases, from bronchiolitis obliterans to reactive airways disease (RAD). Bronchiolitis obliterans is chronic scarring or inflammation of the inner lung – an obliteration of the airways. It is a serious and irreversible illness. In the worst cases, the only treatment is lung transplant.
What causes “popcorn lung?” Popcorn lung is caused by a chemical found in butter flavoring called diacetyl. This chemical exists in small quantities in natural butter, and gives butter its flavor and aroma. For this reason, flavoring companies use diacetyl in products from microwave popcorn flavoring, to peanut butter, butterscotch, and many other products. Diacetyl, however, can be extremely dangerous. It vaporizes when heated, and damages the lung and respiratory tract when inhaled. Unfortunately, flavoring companies have used diacetyl in large quantities instead of natural butter in their popcorn flavorings. Diacetyl is less expensive than natural butter. It also has a longer shelf life, and a stronger aroma.
What are the symptoms of “popcorn lung?” The symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans, or “popcorn lung,” include: shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing, coughing, fatigue, and difficulty exercising or performing daily tasks. Some people who suffer from bronchiolitis obliterans have trouble sleeping – they sleep propped upright, or cannot sleep at all. Severe attacks, similar to heart attacks, can occur upon stress or exertion.
What is the treatment for “popcorn lung?” Unfortunately, because the damage caused by butter flavoring is permanent, there is no real treatment. Inhalers and steroids cannot remove the scarring caused by butter flavorings. In the most serious cases, the only treatment option is a lung transplant. The best way to prevent further damage is to avoid contact with microwave popcorn flavoring.
How do I know if my breathing problems are caused by butter flavoring? Only a doctor can diagnose “popcorn lung.” Many doctors, however, are not familiar with the disease. Sometimes, they do not know what to look for, and instead improperly diagnose the illness as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia, or another illness unrelated to butter flavoring. Often, doctors prescribe inhalers or other medications that do not work. The best way to make certain that this does not happen to you is to tell your doctor that you have been exposed to microwave popcorn flavoring, either at home or in the workplace. If your doctor is unfamiliar with flavoring-related lung illness, perhaps he or she can refer you to a breathing specialist, or pulmonologist.
If I already have “popcorn lung,” will my lungs get any worse? The chemical found in butter flavoring damages on contact. Once the contact with butter flavoring stops, the damage also stops. However, the damage that is already there does not go away. For this reason, common colds, respiratory infections, and other lung problems affect a person with “popcorn lung” more than they would affect someone with healthy lungs. This can produce a general downward trend in health, even though a person no longer works at a popcorn plant, and avoids microwave popcorn at home.
If you work at a plant that makes microwave popcorn or other butter-flavored products – or a plant that makes the butter flavoring itself – and have noticed breathing problems, please contact Robert E. Sweeney Co., LPA. If you or your family members eat microwave popcorn regularly, and have developed breathing problems, please contact Robert E. Sweeney Co., LPA today. We have more experience representing the victims of butter flavoring than any other Ohio law firm.