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Flavoring Ingredient Linked to Workers' Lung Disease

Dutch researchers link chemical in butter flavoring to 'popcorn worker's lung'

FRIDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Following recent studies linking lung disease to exposure to food-processing flavorings, researchers in the Netherlands have found an association between an agent used in the production of diacetyl -- used for butter flavoring -- and bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome. The research is published in the Sept. 1 issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Frits G.B.G.J. van Rooy, M.D., of the Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences in Utrecht, the Netherlands, and colleagues interviewed and conducted spirometry on 175 people who worked between 1960 and 2003 in a chemical plant that produced diacetyl.

The researchers found three cases of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome, also called "popcorn worker's lung." They also found another case post-study in a worker who had not participated in the study. Exposure to some agent during diacetyl production -- which includes diacetyl, acetoin and acetaldehyde -- appears to be responsible for causing the syndrome, the report indicates.

"Although the hazard of diacetyl is not in question, uncertainties do remain. The spectrum of health effects related to flavorings may be broader than fixed obstruction. Asthma, bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia, granulomatous pneumonitis, tracheo- and bronchiomalacia, fibrosis, and systemic symptoms without obstruction have all been reported in flavoring-exposed workers," writes Kathleen Kreiss, M.D., of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, in an accompanying editorial. "Safe levels of exposure are not yet clear, and little demonstration of the effectiveness of workplace intervention exists to date."

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