The public is being warned by lung specialists that not only factory workers could be in danger as a result of the fumes from buttery-flavored microwave popcorn, in a letter issued by federal regulars from a physician at a leading lung research hospital.
Oh? Somebody is getting research funds to study popcorn and I wasn't asked to participate?
A pulmonary specialist at Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center has written to federal agencies reporting that doctors working there believe they have the first case of a consumer who developed lung disease from the fumes of microwaving popcorn several times a day for years.
This begs at least from my perspective, the question as to how many of us actually eat pop popcorn several times a day? This person obviously had a popcorn addiction that went untreated for many years for this to occur. Perhaps had she/he been weaned away... But I digress.
"We cannot be sure that this patient's exposure to butter flavored microwave popcorn from daily heavy preparation has caused his lung disease," cautioned Dr. Cecile Rose. "However, we have no other plausible explanation."
The July letter, made public Tuesday by a public health policy blog, refers to a potentially fatal disease commonly called popcorn lung that has been the subject of lawsuits by hundreds of workers at food factories exposed to chemicals used for flavouring.
Note there is no Latin term as yet for the new syndrome. Popcornus lungitis bad-forus springs to mind.
In response to Rose's finding, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association issued a statement Tuesday recommending that its members reduce "to the extent possible" the amount of diacetyl in butter flavourings they make. It noted that diacetyl is approved for use in flavours by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
One national popcorn manufacturer, Weaver Popcorn Co. of Indianapolis, said last week it would replace the butter flavouring ingredient because of consumer concern. Congress has also been debating new safety measures for workers in food processing plants exposed to diacetyl.
The FDA said in an e-mail it is evaluating Rose's letter and "carefully considering the safety and regulatory issues it raises."
Fred Blosser, spokesman for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said it is the first case the institute has seen of lung disease apparently linked to popcorn fumes outside the workplace.
A spokesman for National Jewish Medical, confirmed the letter was sent by Rose, a specialist in occupational and environmental lung diseases and director of the hospital's Occupational and Environmental Medicine Clinic.
"There have been no other cases that we know of other than the industrial occupational ones," Allstetter said.
Rose acknowledged in the letter that it is difficult to confirm through one case that popping buttered microwave popcorn at home can cause lung disease. However, she said she wanted to alert regulators of the potential public health implications.
Perhaps if we don't inhale...
Rose said the ailing patient, a man whom she wouldn't identify, consumed "several bags of extra butter flavoured microwave popcorn" every day for several years. He described progressively worsening respiratory symptoms of coughing and shortness of breath. Tests found his ability to exhale was deteriorating, Rose said, although his condition seemed to stabilize after he quit using microwave popcorn.
Read an up-close-and-personal story about the man who has allegedly experienced first-hand the effects of popcorn lung here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/09/06/health/main3239379.shtml
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