The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Unions Seek Action on ‘Popcorn Lungâ€TM

by Brendan Coyne

Aug. 31, 2006 – Frustrated by inaction at the federal level, two labor unions last week asked California to issue emergency rules protecting workers from exposure to diacetyl, a chemical flavoring tied to a rare lung disease.

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In a petition last Wednesday, the western states’ arm of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the California State Labor Federation demanded that the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) immediately require companies that use diacetyl to control airborne levels and provide workers with respirators. The petition also calls on the agency to provide workers with information on the dangers of the chemical and asks that Cal-OSHA initiate inspections and develop a permanent rule governing diacetyl.

Diacetyl is a commonly used synthetic butter flavoring. Since 2000, the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has linked diacetyl exposure to dozens of cases of an often fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans.

NIOSH, the workplace health and safety arm of the Centers for Disease Control, first warned of the problem in 2004 in a report on connections between diacetyl and the lung disease. NIOSH also issued an alert recommending that employers limit workers’ exposure to the chemical. Despite calls for action from NIOSH, unions, and health professionals, no federal or state bodies have stepped in with new regulations.

Last month, the UFCW International and the Teamsters union petitioned the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for emergency regulations similar to those requested of Cal-OSHA.

According to Cal-OSHA Reporter, acting Cal-OSHA head Len Welsh said there is no need for new standards. The agency is monitoring the estimated 30 diacetyl-using plants in the state.

Since the issue first came to prominence, dozens of workers have sued employers for failing to protect them. Most recently, 29 workers at the Missouri popcorn plant where the disease was first reported filed suit against the company alleging lung damage from exposure to the chemical, the Associated Press reported.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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