Current Litigation

Diacetyl-Induced Lung Disease

February 2015 - $2.6 million verdict awarded to man unknowingly exposed to Diacetyl at work. THL continues to talk to workers exposed to the toxic chemical and diagnosed with life altering lung diseases.

Diacetyl is a highly toxic chemical compound that is very dangerous to not only people who work with it, but also to consumers. Diacetyl exposure can cause permanent, severe, and potentially lethal lung disease in workers and consumers. Despite this, many people continue to work with diacetyl and are not told of the steps they need to take to protect themselves. Also, consumers could be breathing diacetyl vapors and risking their health by using products containing diacetyl.

Diacetyl vapors enter the lungs, setting off an autoimmune chain reaction in the lung tissue of the small airways. If you picture your windpipe as a tree trunk the small airways, or bronchioles, are the smallest end of the smallest branches, furthest away from the trunk. This is where oxygen goes into your blood stream, and CO2 comes out. The tissue in the bronchioles becomes fibrotic, essentially turning to scar tissue. The tissue stops working like it should, and less and less oxygen is able to get from the lungs into the blood stream where the body can use it. Once this scarring process has happened it is irreversible – the tissue never returns to normal.

This disease is commonly referred to in the media as “Popcorn Lung” because it was first widely reported in workers making microwave popcorn. However, this disease has been found in people working in coffee roasting plants; animal feed plants; bakeries; candy factories; flavoring manufacturing plants; and in everyday consumers. In the medical community the disease is referred to as bronchiolitis obliterans, obliterative bronchiolitis or diacetyl-induced bronchiolitis obliterans.

Most people do not know that they are exposing themselves to diacetyl. Because it is often times actively hidden by the industry, consumers are deprived of the ability to make an informed decision about the products they are using, and our health, and the health of workers, is left to profit motivated corporations. And, these flavorings are BIG business.

What is Diacetyl?

Diacetyl is both a man-made chemical compound, and something that occurs naturally in certain foods or food processes. Diacetyl is used to mimic the taste, texture, and smell of butter. In the flavoring industry, it is used as an ingredient, or component part, of usually complex flavoring “recipes” used to artificially flavor foods, beverages, and so-called vaping juice or e-juice. Any processed flavoring that has a buttery-note, or buttery taste, as part of its flavor profile likely contains diacetyl. Even if that product is labeled as being “naturally flavored” it could still contain diacetyl.

Even though the human health risk of diacetyl has been known for decades there is no current requirement that a company indicate on a box or label, when a product contains diacetyl.

“Generally Recognized as Safe” Refers to Ingestion Only.

While the FDA does classify diacetyl as “GRAS” or “Generally Recognized As Safe” it is important to understand that this classification refers only to the question of the safety of ingestion. The FDA is merely answering the question “is something safe to eat”? This is a very different question than “is it safe to inhale”?

Further, it is important to understand that the “GRAS” system was developed by the main flavoring industry trade group, the Flavor & Extracts Manufacturers Association. The Flavor & Extracts Manufacturers Association serves as an advocate for the flavor manufacturers and suppliers and it is completely self-policed.

According to FEMA’s website,

The FEMA Expert Panel only evaluates substances for GRAS status that are used to formulate flavors to be added to human foods. The Expert Panel does not evaluate food ingredients with functions other than flavoring nor does it evaluate flavorings for use in products other than human food. For example, the Expert Panel does not evaluate flavor ingredients for use in tobacco products, e-cigarettes, or other products that involve routes of exposure other than ingestion.

Lawyers, private groups, state governments and health agencies, as well as other medical professionals have tried for years to raise public awareness of the dangers of this chemical.

Health Effects of Exposure to Diacetyl

  • Lungs – Symptoms include a dry cough, shortness of breath when using extra energy, and wheezing. The symptoms can start gradually, or severe symptoms can occur suddenly. The symptoms continue even away from work. Asthma medicines are not effective.
  • Eyes nose and throat – Diacetyl vapors can sting or burn the eyes. The vapors can cause your nose and throat to burn and feel sore.
  • Skin – Diacetyl can irritate the skin. It can cause a rash with dryness, redness, flaking and cracking of the skin.
  • The progression of the disorder often takes place over a period of months to years, and frequently results in progressive respiratory tract symptoms and irreversible losses in ventilatory lung function.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease - New research links diacetyl with Alzheimer’s disease

Early signs of the disease can be eye irritation; shortness of breath that is new; fatigue; crackling in the lungs; and difficulty sleeping. In its early stages, symptoms may decrease during weekends or other breaks from exposure.

Potential Misdiagnosis of Diacetyl-Induced Lung Disease

Lung disease can be hard to diagnose even for experienced pulmonologists. And, even doctors experienced in treating occupational diseases can miss bronchiolitis obliterans. If you believe you have been exposed to diacetyl in your work place, or at home, be sure to let your doctor know so that your lung function can be tested. Early detection is critical.

The following diagnoses show similar symptoms, and diacetyl-induced lung disease is often misdiagnosed as one of the following diseases:

  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic Bronchitis
  • COPD
  • Lung Cancer
  • Mesothelioma Chronic Pneumonia

TorHoerman Law has been representing people all over the country suffering from diacetyl-induced lung disease for several years. Please contact Attorney Jacob W. Plattenberger with any questions you may have.

Diacetyl Timeline

  • 1977 - Study showed that diacetyl applied to the skin of rabbits resulted in lung destruction (Baltimore Sun, 2006)
  • 1985: NIOSH investigates the occurrence of cases resembling bronchiolitis obliterans in workers of a company that mixed liquid flavorings with cornstarch for the baking industry (Kanwal, Richard, MD MPH).
Consultants for the Flavor and Extract Manufacturing Association produced a
data sheet that said that breathing diacetyl is harmful to the respiratory tract and is “capable of producing system toxicity” (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
  • 1992-2000: Eight workers of the Glister-Mary Lee popcorn plant in Jasper, Missouri, developed a lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare disease in which lung tissue is permanently destroyed (NIOSH Fact Sheet, 2002).
  • 2000: The outbreak of lung disease is identified in the Jasper, Mo. popcorn factory while other outbreaks were identified in Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, and Indiana (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
    • Missouri Department of Health asks NIOSH to determine if these cases of lung disease were due to an exposure at the plant in Missouri.
    • NIOSH found that workers at the Glister-Mary Lee popcorn plant in Jasper, Mo. who spent more time in areas with higher air concentrations of diacetyl were more likely to have abnormal airflow in their breathing tests. Workers reported cough and shortness of breath 2.6 times as often as would be expected based on US population health data. Higher exposures over time were associated with lower airflow (NIOSH Fact Sheet, 2002).
    • NIOSH made recommendations for improvements to the ventilation of the Missouri plant, which the company followed (NIOSH Fact Sheet, 2002).
  • 2001: German chemical company shares animal study results conducted in 1993 that showed that rats subjected to diacetyl suffered significant lung injury and many died (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
  • 2002: NIOSH presents its 2000 findings to OSHA, state health departments, and the flavoring industry.
    • Findings also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
    • OSHA’s scientists begin studying diacetyl, urging their leaders to take broader action (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
    • Flavor and Extract Manufacturing Association downplays diacetyl hazard in comments to NIOSH (Baltimore Sun, 2006)
  • 2004: Flavor and Extract Manufacturing issues its report on precautions in use of flavorings.
    California OSHA officials seek NIOSH’s help after Los Angeles worker is diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans.
    2005: California OSHA officials let flavorings industry-paid consultant investigate workers’ health in the flavorings plants (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
  • 2006: A lawsuit filed in February, charged that the Flavor and Extract Manufacturing Association “conspired with the other defendants to fraudulently conceal the true facts regarding the health consequences of the butter flavoring…” (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
    In July 2006, The International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Untied Food and Commercial Workers petitioned the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration to promulgate an emergency temporary standard to protect workers from the deleterious health effects of inhaling diacetyl vapors.
  • 2007: Dr. Cecile Rose, pulmonary specialist at Denver’s National Jewish Medical and Research Center, in a letter, warned federal agencies or regulators that consumers, not just factory workers, are in danger of contracting bronchiolitis obliterans from fumes produced by microwaving popcorn-containing diacetyl. Popcorn Lung, Coming to Your Kitchen? The FDA Doesn’t Want You to Know. (9/4/2007)
    (9/24/2007) FEMA recommended reducing diacetyl in butter flavorings
  • 2009: Letter from NIOSH Director John Howard to OSHA Chief David Michaels in which Director Howard reports that the “new, safer, butter substitutes” used in popcorn and other foods are, in some cases, at least as toxic as what they replaced. John Hallagan, general counsel for the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, said his organization has told anyone who would listen that diacetyl substitutes are actually just another form of diacetyl. 12/23/2009
  • Present:
 Diacetyl and other flavoring chemicals have been linked to nearly 200 cases of lung disease among factory workers who make or use the chemicals. It has killed at least three (Baltimore Sun, 2006).
More than a $100 million has been awarded in jury verdicts and paid in settlements in cases brought by former popcorn plant workers against companies supplying or making the butter flavoring (Baltimore Sun, 2006).

  • August 2010 - A Chicago Jury has awarded $30 million to a chemical-flavoring plant worker disabled by exposure to diacetyl.
  • August 2012 - A new study of beta-amyloid protein clumps in the brain indicate an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease with real world occupational exposure to diacetyl.

There are currently two bills in the California Legislature to ban the use of diacetyl.


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Diacetyl is a dangerous substance used in many food products and it is rarely indicated as an ingredient.  Exposure to diacetyl has been known to leave workers and consumers with a lethal lung disease.  If you believe that you have been exposed to diacetyl, contact us today for a free consultation on your legal claim.  


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