Thursday, June 30, 2011

Worker blames chemical exposure for rare lung disease, wins lawsuit

Workers' chemical exposure can lead to
expensive lawsuits and settlements.A Baltimore County man who says he contracted a rare lung disease from breathing a butter flavoring chemical at the workplace has been awarded $814,500, the Baltimore Sun reports.

The judgment was against Polarome International Inc., a New Jersey-based chemical manufacturer and distributor.

The former plant worker, Brian Hallock, was originally awarded $5.4 million by a jury, but a judge reduced the amount because of a cap on non-economic damages, lawyers explained. They plan to appeal the cap.

Hallock was diagnosed with the rare lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans in 2006, also known as "popcorn lung" after years of breathing the chemical diacetyl, a substance used to make food taste buttery.

Now in his 50s, he has severely depleted lung capacity and may need to retire soon.

This is not the first case involving diacetyl. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health already established a link between diacetyl and the lung disease, according to Dr. David Weissman, director of the division of respiratory disease studies, and the first cases of the disease were noted more than a decade ago.

Scientists discovered that diacetyl was a threat in large doses, whether it was made chemically or naturally by fermenting bacteria.

Many suppliers turned to substitutes, but they, too, may cause disease, Weissman said. The evolving information has meant no federal regulations on use, though Weissman said there is a team working on recommendations and they are expected in the fall.

Source: Baltimore Sun

What is diacetyl?

Diacetyl is a natural byproduct of fermentation and can also be manufactured. It is often used in certain foods such as margarine or microwaved popcorn to impart a buttery flavor.

The United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has suggested that diacetyl, when used in artificial butter flavoring (as used in many consumer foods), may be hazardous to workers when heated and inhaled over a long period.

The workers can get diacetyl-induced bronchiolitis obliterans, commonly called popcorn workers lung, which may require a lung transplant.

There have been a number of health and safety lawsuits involving long-term exposure to diacetyl, and some workers have been awarded millions of dollars because they have suffered permanent lung damage.

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