Bronchiolitis obliterans is a respiratory disease that is casually known as “popcorn lung”. The condition received its nickname in 2007 when it was found to be occurring in popcorn plant workers. It is a potentially life-threatening irreversible disease which the only cure is a lung transplant in severe cases. Popcorn lung inflames the bronchioles – the small lung airway- causing scarring and obliterating appropriate airflow.
The chemical diacetyl which was popularly used in microwaveable popcorn was long deemed the culprit in popcorn lung cases. This chemical used to butter flavour a number of snack foods and also occurs naturally in some foods and drinks. The chemical has led to mounting lawsuits as Scientists and Regulators find that excessive diacetyl exposure may likely lead to bronchiolitis obliterans.
Researchers also believe that another butter flavouring chemical, pentanedione could cause bronchiolitis obliterans. Health Regulators in the USA have now become involved. Since the link between the disease and diacetyl has been established hundreds of food industry workers have filed popcorn lung lawsuits.
The chemical styrene has also been associated with bronchiolitis obliterans and the disease has been seen in some boat builders who prepared fibre glass with styrene resins.