Evaluation of flavorings-related lung disease risk at six microwave popcorn plants

J Occup Environ Med. 2006 Feb;48(2):149-57. doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000194152.48728.fb.


Objective: After investigating fixed airways obstruction in butter flavoring-exposed workers at a microwave popcorn plant, we sought to further characterize lung disease risk from airborne butter-flavoring chemicals.

Methods: We analyzed data from medical and environmental surveys at six microwave popcorn plants (including the index plant).

Results: Respiratory symptom and airways obstruction prevalences were higher in oil and flavorings mixers with longer work histories and in packaging-area workers near nonisolated tanks of oil and flavorings. Workers were affected at five plants, one with mixing-area exposure to diacetyl (a butter-flavoring chemical with known respiratory toxicity potential) as low as 0.02 ppm.

Conclusions: Microwave popcorn workers at many plants are at risk for flavoring-related lung disease. Peak exposures may be hazardous even when ventilation maintains low average exposures. Respiratory protection and engineering controls are necessary to protect workers.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diacetyl / adverse effects
  • Diacetyl / analysis*
  • Female
  • Food-Processing Industry*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / chemically induced
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Lung Diseases, Obstructive / prevention & control*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupational Exposure / prevention & control
  • Occupations
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Diacetyl