EPA: Popcorn fumes contain controversial chemical (11/30)
Eighty percent of the chemical fumes escaping from a bag of microwave popcorn occur within the first seconds of opening the steaming package, the government study found.
The chemical butter flavoring agent diacetyl has been linked to the rare and deadly Popcorn Lung Disease, or bronchiolitis obliterans, which has killed at least three popcorn factory workers and sickened hundreds of others and at least one consumer.
"What the EPA study does is actually tell us that there are a bunch of other chemicals that come off of microwave popcorn, but we don't know what the exposure levels are," said David Michaels, a public health professor at George Washington University.
The Food and Drug Administration deems diacetyl safe to consume, but recent publicity has the nation's biggest microwave popcorn manufacturers phasing it out, according to infoZine.
"FDA is not aware of any evidence that consumption of diacetyl, as opposed to inhalation, is unsafe," said Kimberly Rawlings, a spokeswoman for the FDA.
The EPA report was published earlier this month in the journalCritical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. It is the first comprehensive study looking at chemicals released in microwave popcorn, with diacetyl registering as the one of the highest emissions.
The study aims to "identify and quantify emissions" but not to "draw any health conclusions," said Suzanne Ackerman, an EPA spokeswoman.
The House passed legislation in September that requires OSHA to act now to protect popcorn workers. The measure is awaiting Senate approval.
The four largest popcorn producers â€” General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Weaver Popcorn and American Pop Corn Co. â€” are phasing out diacetyl from microwave popcorn recipes. Their decisions came before the EPA study was officially released.
"We took action based on consumer perception," said Tom Forsythe, a spokesman for General Mills, which makes Pop Secret.
Hundreds of factory workers are diagnosed with Popcorn Lung Disease, some waiting on lung donor lists, according to infoZine. At least one consumer, a Colorado man who ate two bags of popcorn a day for more than 10 years, has also been diagnosed.