A Moment of Science

Popcorn Lung

Have you heard of popcorn worker lung? Over the past few decades, several workers at popcorn plants developed a lung disease that permanently scars the airway.

Bowl of Popcorn

Photo: jmacphoto.com (flickr)

For factory workers in a Popcorn factory, they have a big risk of breathing in diacetyl (butter flavor) which can cause lung cancer.

Have you heard of popcorn worker lung? Over the past few decades, several workers at popcorn plants developed a lung disease that permanently scars the airway. The damage is so bad that some of the popcorn workers need lung transplants.

Scientists think the disease occurs as a result of breathing in a chemical used to create an artificial butter taste called diacetyl. Lab rats that breathed lots of the stuff ended up with the same kind of lung damage.

Since you aren’t a lab rat, and most likely don’t work at a popcorn factory, you’re okay right?

Well, probably, though a man in Denver showed up in a doctor’s office with telltale symptoms. It turns out he’d been making at least one bag of butter-flavored microwave popcorn a day for ten years, and when he opened a bag, he’d take a deep whiff of the buttery scent. In doing this, he was breathing in a lot of diacetyl, affecting the man just like the popcorn factory employees.

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