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Man Awarded $7.2 Million for 'Popcorn Lung'

Popcorn
Popcorn
Flickr/veggiefrog

If you thought popcorn was dangerous just because of those hard little things that get stuck between your teeth, think again. A jury has awarded a Colorado man $7.2 million in damages because he developed a chronic condition known as "popcorn lung" from a chemical used to give microwave popcorn its butter flavor, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Wayne Watson, 59, ate microwave popcorn every day for years before developing the obstructive lung disease formally known as bronchiolitis obliterans. The irreversible condition makes it difficult for air to flow out of the lungs. He was diagnosed in 2007 after years of inhaling the smell of artificial butter. The Denver resident was the first consumer of microwave popcorn diagnosed with the disease, his attorney Kenneth McClain said.

Watson sued the Illinois popcorn manufacturer (Gilster-Mary Lee Corp.) and the supermarket chain (King Soopers) that sold it for negligence for failing to warn on labels that the chemical butter flavoring, diacetyl, was dangerous. The jury agreed, finding the manufacturer liable for 80% of the $7,217,961 damages and the supermarket and its parent company, Kroger Co., 20%.

Health problems associated with diacetyl first surfaced in popcorn factory workers about 15 years ago. McClain told the Tribune he has represented microwave popcorn and flavoring workers across the U.S. since 2004, and that they have been awarded large damages. Similar private consumer cases are pending in federal court in Iowa and in state court in New York, he said.

And, as we reported last month, diacetyl has also been linked to the development of Alzheimer's. Because of the issues (and lawsuits), most microwave popcorn processors and manufacturers stopped using diacetyl in 2007.

A spokeswoman for King Soopers and Kroger told the Tribune the companies intended to appeal the decision. An attorney for Gilster-Mary Lee was not immediately available for comment.


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