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Popcorn workers lung.

THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR must act to stop "popcorn workers lung," asserts a July petition filed by the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Popcorn workers lung, or bronchiolitis obliterans, is a severe, disabling and often fatal lung disease experienced by factory workers who produce or handle diacetyl, the artificial butter flavoring in popcorn.

In 2002 and 2003, scientists with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) studying diacetyl unsuccessfully urged the agency to take broader action to protect workers. There are currently no OSHA standards requiring exposures to be controlled.

"Three workers have died and hundreds of others are seriously injured," says Jackie Nowell, UFCW Safety & Health Director. "It's time for action. We will not let food processing workers continue to be the canaries in the coal mine while waiting for the industry to regulate itself."

More than 8,000 workers are employed in the flavorings production industry and may be exposed to the dangers of diacetyl and other similar chemicals. Tens of thousands of food processing workers are involved in the production of popcorn, pastries, frozen foods, candies and even dog food that use these chemicals.

The unions' petition was accompanied by a letter from 42 leading occupational safety scientists, who all agree that there is more than enough evidence for OSHA to regulate. "Study after study has shown that breathing artificial butter flavor destroys workers' lungs," says Dr. David Michaels of the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy at the George Washington University School of Public Health. "We know how to prevent this terrible disease, but OSHA refuses to act."

The unions' petition asks that OSHA require all employees who are exposed to a certain airborne level of the chemical be provided with air purifying respirators. The safety of these workers would be monitored through medical surveillance and regular consultations.
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Title Annotation:workers health and safety measures; bronchiolitis obliterans
Author:Mokhiber, Russell
Publication:Multinational Monitor
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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