Diet Don't : Popcorn’s deadly butter-vapor diacetyl
A decade after safety concerns were first raised by experts, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) conducted public hearings on Diacetyl – a chemical widely used to flavor microwave popcorn. The public comment period ended on April 21st.
Recent studies show laboratory mice made to inhale diacetyl vapors for just three months developed lymphocytic bronchiolitis.
Popcorn producers are not required to label Diacetyl separately, and may list it under a general heading on labels as a flavoring ingredient.
Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy Director David Michaels says: “This is an example of a potentially toxic substance receiving GRAS (generally recognized as safe) designation without undergoing adequate testing. It’s also an example of how our key public health agencies rely on chemical manufacturers themselves to provide critical health effects data. Whether food additives, pesticides, or industrial chemicals, the public's health and safety should not rely solely on industry affirmations.”
OSHA Closes Hearing For Diacetyl Rulemaking
OSHA intends the term ``diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl'' to encompass other constituents of food flavorings containing diacetyl. In addition to information on diacetyl, OSHA seeks information on acetoin, acetaldehyde, acetic acid, furfural, and other compounds present in food flavorings that may cause or contribute to flavoring-related lung disease. OSHA is also interested in and seeks information about diacetyl present in substances other than food flavorings (e.g., naturally occurring diacetyl or diacetyl in fragrances) as well as substitutes used in place of diacetyl (e.g., diacetyl trimer). The information received in response to this document will assist the Agency in developing a proposed standard addressing occupational exposure to diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl. The Comment period ended April 21, 2009. http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-1125.htm
Despite lawsuit verdicts in the millions, finding in favor of microwave popcorn factory workers and against Diacetyl, neither the Food and Drug Administration nor the Consumer Product Safety Commission have investigated. In 2000, OSHA conducted several studies that confirmed the link between occupational exposure the artificial butter flavoring Diacetyl and lung diseases.
In 2003, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Diacetyl investigation findings were distributed privately to the popcorn industry.
In 2006, two labor unions petitioned the OSHA to issue an emergency temporary standard on Diacetyl to protect workers in the food and flavorings industries. More than 42 scientists and public health experts signed a letter supporting the petition.
In 2007, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee, and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WT) Chair HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety, wrote to FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach, and CDC Director Julie Gerberding. They also wrote to Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao and Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke, asking for an Emergency Temporary Standard to protect workers from Diacetyl – an action supported by unions and manufacturers. No action has been taken.
In 2008, by a vote of 260 to 154, the US House of Representatives has passed H.R. 2693, the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act. The vote demonstrates the widespread recognition that OSHA failed to protect workers and Congress needed to act. To date, the Senate has not acted.
In 2008, our State Senate passed SB 456: Diacetyl Toxic Substance Ban, a bill that bans diacetyl, a vapor used in the production of microwave popcorn, pancake syrup, cakes, candies, frozen foods, and other products that has been associated to lung illness. The bill currently sits in the Health Committee.
Similarly, scientists and consumer groups point to a much larger health problem posed by unlabeled genetically modified organisms, also permitted by the FDA to enter the food supply under the GRAS designation several years ago.
The OSHA contact for this Emergency Temporary Standard rulemaking (numbered RIN 1218-AC33) is Dorothy Dougherty, director of the Directorate of Standards and Guidance (202-693-1950, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Reader Note: Andrew Schneider, a two-time Pulitzer prize winning journalist broke this story several years ago. I recommend reading his reports for additional information.