Chemical in Microwaved Popcorn May Cause Lung Disease

Posted on September 6, 2007

WebMD reports on a possible link between microwaved popcorn and lung disease. The potential problem is a chemical in the popcorn called diacetyl that may be very dangerous when inhaled. Lung problems have been diagnosed in workers at factories where microwave popcorn is made. This particular article also discusses a case involving a non-worker who fell ill with lung problems. This person ate two or more bags of microwaved popcorn a day.

It's a rare disease, first seen in 1985 in workers in food-flavor factories. In 2002, the disease was seen in workers making microwave popcorn -- in particular, those exposed to a buttery-tasting chemical called diacetyl. There have been many other reports since then, with at least three deaths and many patients awaiting lung transplants.

But Rose's patient had never been exposed to food-flavoring fumes. His only exposure was to the two or more bags of microwave popcorn he consumed every day.

Rose took a team to the man's house and tested the air while microwaving some popcorn. Air levels of diacetyl were similar to those in the area of a microwave popcorn factory where workers were affected.

Many foods other than popcorn contain diacetyl. There's no indication that eating these foods is dangerous. But breathing fumes containing diacetyl appears to be very dangerous.

Microwave popcorn, of course, gives off hot fumes if the bag is opened before the cooked popcorn cools. According to news reports, Rose's patient liked to inhale the aroma of newly popped microwave popcorn. Rose reports that his symptoms stopped getting worse when he stopped making microwave popcorn.

WebMD also says that diacetyl is used in other products so it will be important that more research is conducted to determine whether ingestion of the product is harmful or if it only breathing the diacetyl fumes into your lungs that may result in illness. The Wikipedia entry discusses other products that contin diacetyl.

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