Popcorn lung a disease with no known cure. For microwave popcorn lovers this could be bad news. You might need to wear a gas mask when zapping your favorite buttery treat. If you eat more than two bags a day for ten years (that’s a lot of popcorn!) you might develop popcorn lung.
Popcorn lung is a rare form of obstructive lung disease which attacks the bronchioles or very small airways. It is a form of bronchiolitis obliterans.
The reason it is called popcorn lung is that in rare cases the disease can be caused by inhaling diacetyl, the chemical used to make butter flavored microwave popcorn. It is also used to make some candies and wines.
In the year 2000 eight persons working in the Gilster-Mary plant in Missouri were diagnosed with popcorn lung. The plant produced microwave popcorn and since then regulations about lung protection are required when working with diacetyl.
Wayne Watson was diagnosed with popcorn lung but never worked in a plant. But he loved microwave popcorn so much that he ate two bags a day, every day, for 10 years. After all that time breathing in the buttery fumes he got sick.
In 2012 Watson was awarded $7.2 million in a lawsuit against the Glister-Mary Lee Corp and other companies involved in the production and sale of the microwave popcorn which caused him to develop popcorn lung.
There is some evidence that diacetyl also causes Alzheimer’s disease in addition to its risk of causing popcorn lung. Watson says that his lung capacity is down nearly 50% since being diagnosed with the disease.
The Weaver Popcorn Company announced in 2007 that in light of the risk of popcorn lung it will be using another flavoring in making its Pop Weaver popcorn.
Despite these cases diacetyl continues to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It is categorized as a flavor ingredient and its current status is “safe”. Given the latest lawsuit and risk of popcorn lung perhaps the FDA will reconsider this categorization.
Besides popcorn lung other forms of brochiolitis obliterans can be caused by infections, drugs, toxic fumes, collagen vascular disease and transplant organ rejection syndromes.
Persons who work with polyamide-amine dyes, batteries, and in nylon-flock factories could be at risk for developing a lung disease similar to popcorn lung.
In serious cases the only available treatment for popcorn lung is lung transplant.