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.