The Microwaved Popcorns: Are they safe or not? – A Case Analysis

Last Updated: 07 Jul 2020
Essay type: Analysis
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The Microwaved Popcorns: Are they safe or not? – A Case Analysis

Issue regarding the discharge of the use of the chemical diacetyl in microwaved popcorn manufacture was a hit in the U.S. when several cases arose regarding the lethal disease it might cause. Several dialogues have been conducted but the issue is not yet totally resolved. For me, the popcorn companies should discontinue the use of this buttery ingredient to manufacture their popcorns. Even though many contradict because of insufficient scientific evidences, since there are already many cases the companies should limit, or even totally discontinue applying diacetyls to their products just to be careful with whatever might cause until the case has already been proven. What is important here is not the profit, but the lives that can be preserved. In this case study I shall lay down evidences, pros and cons regarding the issue to arrive at the conclusion. My stand about this case is for the removal of diacetyls in manufacture of microwave-ready popcorns.

            What makes popcorn a mania? Julie Chen of the Early Show confessed she thought about how Wayne Watson used to eat two bags of popcorn everyday for ten years until it was revealed to her that it can cause her harm, not on the financial aspect but on the most important possession that every person has, his or her health. According to the investigations, popcorn can cause cancer, or bronchiolitis obliterans as more commonly known in medical terms. Popcorn lung disease has been extensively studied due to its increasing frequency in factory workers of popcorn factories, and even for those who just cook and eat this product. Popcorn has been very famous especially when mixed with butter and salt that is why many are victimized by the underground hazardous effect of popcorn.

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            According to the statistics, most of the injury goes to the popcorn factory workers due to their exposure to the chemical diacetyl. Diacetyl is a flavoring of popcorn approved by the Food and Drug Association as an ingredient. It has long been used although linked to rare, irreversible lung disease (Cohen, 2007). Factory workers are exposed to this chemical when they are testing bags of popcorn (hundreds of it a day) which does not exempt them from inhaling the fumes. The National Institute of Occupational Safety mentioned its occurrence in nature. Because of its buttery taste, its use is very rampantly in wines and cheese (Anonymous, 2007). As the case of the disease broke, removal of the diacetyl from their products was announced by the microwave popcorn manufacturers together with members of Congress for federal agencies and health advocates (Borkowski, 2007), contradicting the article written in CBS News on the same year saying that the federal regulators gave no warnings and medical attention or advices on how grave the situations is regarding the issue. Raquel Rutledge, writer of “Snack should no be toxic” and Marcus Kabel of “Microwaved popcorn may be linked to illness” were the first publications released by the Associated Press and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. On the first sentences of the articles was emphasized that when they first heard of the illness they were able to justify that Dr. Cecile Rose identified exposure to the microwave popcorn fumes as the only suspect in the patient’s illness. The EPA already studied microwave popcorn emissions more than a year ago before the first case shocked the popcorn consumers (Borkowski, 2007). Also many agencies and organizations, including the government debated on the illnesses that can be acquired upon inhaling diacetyl vapors. The Bush administration said that it is totally scientifically proven yet to implement strict rules on the use of the controversial chemical. But instead, major microwave popcorn companies have eliminated the ingredient. The congress on the other hand played it safe that their stand is to just reduce the application or usage of the flavoring to lessen the danger in the workplace. Dr. Allen Palmet of the Kansas City stated that this should have been done earlier, since the disease has spread to hundreds of people had been affected. The doctor who first detected the disease has a conviction to drop the utilization of the chemical. Some doctors even claimed that it is already an epidemic. In line with this, the NIOSH sent off investigators the plant, which has made the argument stronger to link butter flavorings with the popcorn lung disease (Cohen, 2007).

            One of the cases focused on by the debaters and health experts was the case of Wayne Watson, a resident of Denver, the first person diagnosed of the disease in February 2007. The doctors of the National Jewish Hospital declared him of carrying the bronchiolitis obliterans. The national community, after the announcement of media groups such as NBC’s today show and ABC’s Good Morning America, was alarmed by this case when it was supported by Cr. Cecil Rose with the aid of the consultancy of the flavoring industry that the disease was obtained by the patient through popcorn consumption. Wayne was just a consumer, making the issue more interesting, moreover, critical. The prevailing notion that time was that only the workers in the popcorn factories are susceptible to the disease, then after this announcement many were agitated. Many of the workers diagnosed received damage ranging from about three million dollars to twenty million dollars, from the factory in Jasper, Missouri named Gilster Mary Lee. Ten of their workers were severely injured, up to the extent that they had to undergo lung transplant, aside from the other workers which cases are less severe.

            Mr. Watson put the argument against Dillon Companies, the operator of the King Soopers grocery and the Intel-American products from where he purchased his two bags of popcorn everyday. Kroger Company, the owner of the stores refused to give statements regarding the issue to reveal the name of the factory that produces the store-brand microwave popcorn products. Dr. David Egilman of the Brown medical School further explained the lethal effect of diacetyl in laboratory animals, even more when mixed with other chemicals that its effect is magnified. Experts were now giving their warnings regarding the new butter flavors that it might also have the same impact on people who eat products containing these alternative butter flavor ingredients (McClain & Egilman, 2008). A Missouri law firm, namely Humphrey, Farrington & McClain, P.C., of Independence was known for their campaign in putting verdicts in the cases involving victims of the popcorn lung disease.

            The patients who experience difficulty in breathing, serious lung symptoms and hardening of the lung tissue are suspected of being affected by the disease. The sad thing is, as mentioned before, the case is irreversible that even the person reduces his exposure to diacetyl, the damage can no longer be corrected (Farrington & McClain, 2008).

            Experiments on mice were mentioned to strengthen the argument still focusing on the effect of diacetyl to one who is exposed to it. It was found out that lymphocytic bronchiolitis, which is a family of bronchiolitis obliterans, or obliterative bronchiolitis as another name, was caused by the exposure of the mice for about three months to diacetyl. Due to this study two microwave popcorn makers decided to eliminate the incorporation of their products to diacetyl, to add to the previously mentioned companies. This study was actually the first to conduct the evaluation of diacetyl’s toxicity to the respiratory system at levels relevant to human health, said Daniel Morgan of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences or NIEHS. This study was then included in the Toxicological Sciences journal emphasizing that the exposure to this chemical in workplaces can cause the disease (Fox, 2008).

            Medications of the disease includes Chest X-Ray tests, diffusing capacity of the lung (DLCO), Spirometry to check for the obstruction of the bronchioles; lung volume tests to investigate the hyperinflation or enlargement as caused by the trapped air or excessive air in the lungs; High-resolution computerized tomography to check for the heterogeneity of the size of the air sacs due to the thickening of the walls of the airways differently; and last but not the least is the checking of the excessive narrowing of the air sacs which is a major indication for the presence of bronchiolitis. As stated on the previous paragraphs, only lung transplant is the answer if someone wants to be saved from the fatality of the disease.

            We cannot totally blame diacetyl from the obliteration of the lungs of those who claim as patients of popcorn lung cancer. Other reasons for having this type of illness are nylon-flocks, polyamide-amine based dyes, thionyl chloride fumes, and other butter flavorings. Also there are other diseases which are possible causes of bronchilitis namely: collagen vascular disease, unsuccessful lung transplant, infections such as adenovirus, HIV, etc; bronchopulmonary dysplasia; other harmful chemicals such SO2, NO2, NH3, Cl2, SOCl2, HBr, HCl, H2S and many others. There are sometimes unidentified cause of the disease.

In my opinion, since there are already many cases pertaining to the disease, the claims of the Bush administration should be disregarded because many cases were already presented and it was already proven that diacetyl should be eliminated from popcorn production. It should always be taken into account the welfare of the workers because the working force is still the most important. Profit oriented companies must be warned, even not with the case of bronchiolitis obliterans, that the hazardous components of the processes must be well monitored. The safety measures must always be considered. For other factories which cannot avoid using diacetyl and other mentioned possible causes, they should always monitor the level of these chemicals in their workplaces to avoid severe infections and death of their employees. Another concern is that, lung transplants are hard to achieve nowadays, not just because of the millions of dollars that must be possessed to undergo such operation, but the time that might be lost because of the sensitivity of the operation.


            It must be concluded that issue for the popcorn lung disease should be I favor of the termination of the usage of diacetyl in popcorn. Popcorns flavored with diacetyls are indeed cancerous to the lungs. The cases were presented in the discussion regarding the prevalence of BO patients in popcorn factories. Medical findings are already strong evidences to eliminate the usage of diacetyls in manufacturing pop corns. There are still arguments contradicting the truth behind the cases, because they claim that still this has not been proven yet. Are the victims’ evidences not enough? The case had been looked at neutrally to avoid bias, but the scientific conclusions of medical experts are already enough proofs to strengthen the fight against the component of popcorns that enhances its flavor.

The government must support with full force the campaign against the elimination of this chemical in their factories. Significant here are the losses of lives, and ethically speaking, having knowledge to this must convince the owners that the victims have had enough. There can be extensive studies that may formulate the replacement of diacetyl as butter flavor in microwaved popcorns, which the government should look forward to, to avoid damages and to protect the workers.


Anonymous. (2007). "Popcorn Lung" Patient Ate Two Bags A Day: Possible Link Between Chemical In Microwave Popcorn And Lung Ailment. CBS News, from

Borkowski, L. (2007). “Popcorn Lung” Media Roundup [Electronic Version]. Flavoring Workers' Lung (Popcorn/Diacetyl), Health, Occupational Health ; Safety. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from

Cohen, S. (2007, October 28, 2007). Kernel of debate: Does popcorn kill? Some plant workers contract lung illness from butter flavoring. Associated Press from

Farrington, H., ; McClain, P. C. (2008). Missouri Law Firm Focusing on Popcorn Lung Cases Nationwide.   Retrieved May 20, 2008, 2008, from

Fox, M. (2008). Popcorn ingredient causes lung disease: U.S. study. Reuters. Retrieved May 20, 2008, from


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The Microwaved Popcorns: Are they safe or not? – A Case Analysis. (2018, Oct 01). Retrieved from

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