Over the past 10 years, eight workers at a popcorn plant in the US town of Jasper, Missouri, have developed bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare lung disease that causes permanent damage to lung tissue.
Indeed, the number of workers suffering from bronchitis and asthma among the plant's 130 employees is twice the national rate, and cases of obstructed breathing are over three times the rate in the general population.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has been investigating the incidence of lung disease among workers exposed to the artificial butter flavouring used in microwave popcorn. NIOSH believes that diacetyl, the chemical compound that copies the taste and smell of butter, may be responsible for the workers' lung problems. However, studies to test this hypothesis are still in progress (Townsend Lett Docs, 2002; Feb/Mar: 24).