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Exposure to diacetyl.

Exposure to diacetyl, a component of artificial butter flavoring, can be harmful to the nose and airways of mice. Scientists at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health, examined the issue because diacetyl has been implicated in causing obliterative bronchiolitis (OB) in humans. This is a debilitating but rare lung disease, which has been detected in workers who inhale significant concentrations of the flavoring in microwave popcorn packaging plants.

When laboratory mice inhaled diacetyl vapors for three months, they developed lymphocytic bronchiolitis, a potential precursor of OB. None of the mice, however, were diagnosed with OB. This is one of the first studies to evaluate the respiratory toxicity of diacetyl at levels relevant to human health. Mice were exposed to diacetyl at concentrations and durations comparable to those that may be inhaled at some microwave popcorn packaging plants. These findings suggest that workplace exposure to diacetyl contributes to the development of OB in humans, but more research is needed.

Contact: Daniel L. Morgan, Ph.D., head of the Respiratory Toxicology Group, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 111 T.W. Alexander Dr., Research Triangle Park, NC 27709. Phone: 919-541-3345. Fax: 919-541-4395. URL:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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