Dutch scientists have performed a study assessing the risk of bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome (BOS) in employees of microwave popcorn plants who are exposed to diacetyl, a chemical in the artificial butter flavoring, reports the September 1 edition of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

During the study, led by Frits G. B. G. J. van Rooy, PhD, University of Utrecht, Netherlands, investigators conducted spirometry on 175 of 196 workers from a chemical production plant that produced diacetyl between 1960 and 2003. Available data was used to classify workers into three exposure groups with varying exposure profiles to diacetyl.

After workers with airway obstruction underwent further pulmonary testing using tomography, three cases consistent with BOS with air trapping were identified in the highest exposure group of 102 process operators. Two of these cases were lifelong nonsmokers. Potential exposures included acetoin, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, and acetic acid, with diacetyl exposures in the range previously reported to be associated with the microwave popcorn industry.

The researchers concluded that exposure to an agent during diacetyl production appears to be responsible for causing BOS in chemical process operators, consistent with the suspected role of diacetyl in downstream food production.

To view the abstract, click here.