Yesterday a federal court awarded furniture salesman Wayne Watson over $7 million in a lawsuit against a microwaved popcorn maker as well as the grocery store that sold it to him. He claims that the microwaved popcorn caused serious respiratory illness. (Learn more about workers’ compensation and respiratory illness).
Mr. Watson, who lives in Denver, developed respiratory problems often referred to as “popcorn lung” in 2007 from consuming about two bags of popcorn every day. He had done so for nearly 10 years. As he explained, “I probably look like a fairly healthy guy, but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity.”
The popcorn maker named in the lawsuit was Glister-Mary Lee, and Kroger, the supermarket who sold him the product over the years. The attorneys for these two defendants has argued that Mr. Watson’s job in the furniture industry, which exposed him to carpet cleaning chemicals, had instead caused his illness. The lead attorney stated that the defendants would be appealing the decision.
When doctors began to voice concerns about microwaved popcorn several years ago, many manufacturers ignored the rising alarm. Medical concerns focused on the chemical diacetyl, which is an artificial substance used to simulate butter-flavor microwave popcorn and other snacks that don’t actually use any real dairy.
The lung problems that Watson developed are relatively rare, and in the past have primarily been limited to workers in the plants who are exposed to the chemical at high levels. Documented case are quite serious, according to a briefing paper by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. A significant number of snack food manufacturers are eliminating diacetyl from their products because of these reasons.
Chemical Exposure and Toxic Injury
For years, workers’ unions have demanded an end to using this chemical in food products, both due to the risk to consumers and the occupational illness that food plant workers develop. In fact, recent studies even associate the chemical with the brain proteins linked to Alzheimer’s.
However, it’s not really known how much exposure to diacetyl is safe. “OSHA does not have permissible exposure limits (PELs) for most flavoring substances, including diacetyl and acetoin [a substitute of diacetyl],” the paper notes.
Lawsuit and Workers’ Compensation for Popcorn Lung
If you have been exposed to chemicals in the workplace or experienced any other form of on-the-job accident, a work injury attorney can represent your case and ensure that you receive the maximum benefits you deserve. Depending on the circumstances of your case, you may also be eligible to file a third party claim for additional damages. Contact an attorney at Emery Reddy today for a free consultation.