September 21, 2012 — A jury has awarded Wayne Watson $7.2 million in damages for the first “popcorn lung” lawsuit to be filed by a consumer. The Colorado man allegedly ate two bags of butter-flavored popcorn every day for several years, inhaling large amounts of diacetyl, the chemical that gives microwave popcorn its buttery smell. He was diagnosed with a lung condition called bronchiolitis obliterans in 2007.
Watson filed a lawsuit against the buttered popcorn manufacturers, Glister-Mary Lee Corp, and the supermarket chain King Soopers, accusing them of negligence for failing to warn about the dangers of diacetyl. The jury found both the manufacturer and grocery chain liable for Watson’s injuries.
It is the first consumer lawsuit to be awarded compensation for the lung disease. Inhaling large amounts of diacetyl has been linked to “popcorn lung,” a disease technically known as bronchiolitis obliterans. The life-threatening condition causes scarring in the lungs, breathing problems, and a persistent dry cough. In severe cases, the condition may increase the risk of airway obstruction and death.
Most “popcorn lung” lawsuits were filed several years ago by factory workers, not consumers. Many of these lawsuits were awarded significant damages. Major manufacturers banned the use of diacetyl five years ago. Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret, and Jolly Time no longer contain diacetyl.
Attorneys for the popcorn manufacturer and grocery store say they were disappointed with the jury’s verdict, and said they intend to appeal the decision. Lawyers for the supermarket chain Kroger said they “might as well have warned that there are aliens popping out of the bags because there’s just as much support for that.”
Diacetyl is used to make butter and vanilla flavorings. It has been linked to an increased risk of a deadly respiratory disease, and also Alzheimer’s disease. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has published a Hazard Communication regarding workplace exposure to the chemical. Researchers have concluded, “It is highly likely that exposures to diacetyl contributed to the occurrence of severe fixed obstructive lung disease.”
As an alternative to artificially flavored microwave popcorn, consumers might consider using an air popper, and flavoring the product with a small amount of garlic powder, fresh grated parmesean, and cayenne. Salt, pepper, and real butter are also very popular.
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