I think I've got the popcorn lung, Pop

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Eating popcorn

Jon Purdy

BUTTERY, DELICIOUS, STEAMY BAG OF DEATH. "Popcorn lung" is a phenomenon that can afflict the most die-hard microwave popcorn lovers. Hence, lay off on the Orville Redenbacher.

Popcorn: healthy snack or buttery killer?

Weaver popcorn has recently shipped out diacetyl-free popcorn in response to health issues associated with the chemical additive.

Diacetyl is added to microwave popcorn to help create the buttery flavour consumers enjoy.

William Allstetter, media relation official for the National Jewish Medical and Research Center, explained the chemical irritates the bronchioles, the lung’s tiniest airways, and creates a layer of scar tissue which eventually blocks the airways.

The syndrome, known as Bronchiolitis Obliterans, an inflammatory obstruction of the bronchioles, is irreversible and can often be fatal if left untreated.

It is commonly called “popcorn lung,” and has been known to affect factory workers, but the first suspected consumer case occurred at the NJMRC, a treatment centre specializing in respiratory conditions.

Wayne Watson sought treatment in February for shortness of breath and a cough. “He had been here for several months, seeing a doctor who was just baffled,” Allstetter remembered.

Watson’s doctor confronted Dr. Cecile Rose and asked for a consultation. Rose interviewed Watson for an hour asking for details about his life and past ailments.

According to Allstetter, Rose pardoned herself for asking such a strange question, and asked Watson if he ate much popcorn.

Watson apparently replied with disbelief and asked, “How would you know that? I am Mr. Popcorn.”

Allstetter said Rose had been working with food industries for the past three years, screening popcorn additives.

The patient had been averaging two bags of the buttery delicacy a day. As a result, the fumes damaged his lungs.

Cathy Yingling, public relations for Pop Weaver, said Weaver employees have never experienced any problems, but the company has created diacetyl-free products in response to a growing concern from the public.

“We shipped product containing no diacetyl a month to six weeks ago,” Yingling said.

Fortunately, the changes made to Weaver’s popcorn allow consumers to enjoy the same buttery flavour, without the need for a lung transplant. “Our main goal was to maintain the buttery flavour while eliminating the diacetyl,” Yingling said.

Paul Duchesne, media relations officer for Health Canada, said the Canadian Government will be monitoring developments in this case to see what actions might need to be taken.

“For the average consumer who chooses to occasionally eat microwave popcorn, there should be no concern related to diacetyl exposure,” Duchesne said.

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