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Cancer Exposure in a Jiffy?

Apr 09, 2014 11:45AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

Some health headlines are wacky and worrisome at the same time. This one is a pip. (Or is that a pop?) Reports are all over the Internet about microwave popcorn and its cancer risk.

Sadly, there seems to be some science behind this risk. There’s a rare form of lung cancer called bronchiolitis obliterans. . .also known as popcorn lung. In 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), an arm of the CDC, began investigating eight former workers at a microwave popcorn facility in Missouri who had developed bronchiolitis obliterans. The intense investigation traced the cause back to a compound commonly used as an artificial flavoring agent: 2,3-butanedione or diacetyl. It’s both a naturally occurring compound found in butter, beer, and other fermented foods and an artificial one that adds a buttery flavor to foods like margarine and popcorn.

In 2012, a Colorado man with bronchiolitis obliterans was awarded $7.2 million in damages from three microwave popcorn companies. He didn’t work for them—he just ate a lot of microwave popcorn and, regretfully, especially loved inhaling the buttery steam from a just-opened bag. The casual microwave popcorn customer should not be at risk—if he avoids a face full of fumes. Nonetheless, several companies have changed the flavoring agent just in case. Now the substitute is being tested for the same problem. —S.H.
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