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Environment

Unions Seek Standard For Diacetyl Exposure

Workplace limit is requested for microwave popcorn flavoring

by Bette Hileman
July 27, 2006

Two unions—the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Food & Commercial Workers—on July 26 petitioned the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, demanding an emergency temporary workplace standard for diacetyl, a flavoring agent. This chemical is used in artificial butter for microwave popcorn, dog food, and other foods.

In several studies, some reported by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, diacetyl has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, an irreversible lung disease that has sickened and killed workers at factories that manufacture popcorn and flavorings. Scientists and occupational h ealth experts have also sent letters to Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao urging OSHA to set an emergency standard. In addition, health experts have written to EPA asking about the status of a study on health effects from chemicals released when microwave popcorn is prepared at home.

Earlier this month, EPA said the study is undergoing internal and industry review and will be sent to a journal in October. But in their letter, the health experts argue that the study should not be subjected to industry review before its results are released to the public.

In a written statement, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association notes that it has not had time to review the unions' petition. But it "supports any appropriate action that is based on sound science, including the establishment of a permissible exposure limit" for diacetyl.

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