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Eur Respir J. 2009 Jul;34(1):63-71. doi: 10.1183/09031936.00050808.

Airway obstruction related to diacetyl exposure at microwave popcorn production facilities.

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  • 1Department of Environmental Health, University of Cincinnati, 3223 Eden Ave ML 0056, Cincinnati, OH 45267-0056, USA.


Obstructive lung diseases including bronchiolitis obliterans have been reported among microwave popcorn production employees. Butter flavourings including diacetyl have been associated with these findings. The present study was initiated at four microwave popcorn production plants to determine if exposure to diacetyl was associated with decrements in pulmonary function. Comprehensive diacetyl exposure assessment was undertaken for all job tasks. Spirometry was conducted for 765 full-time employees between 2005 and 2006. Outcomes included decrement in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV(1)) % predicted, airway obstruction and persistent decline in FEV(1). Inclusion in the high-exposure group (mixers) prior to respirator use was associated with a significantly decreased FEV(1) % pred in non-Asian and Asian males at -6.1 and -11.8% pred, respectively, and an eight-fold increased risk for airway obstruction. Cumulative diacetyl exposure >or=0.8 ppm-yr caused similar results. No significant impact was seen in nonmixers or between current diacetyl exposure and persistent decline in FEV(1). Unprotected exposure as a mixer to butter flavouring including diacetyl resulted in decrements in FEV(1) (% pred) and increased airway obstruction. Control of employee exposure to butter flavouring additives is warranted in regard to both short-term peak and 8-h workday exposure.

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