Americans love their microwave popcorn, especially the butter-flavored kind. But there are now concerns that the fumes from that "butter-flavor" could be dangerous after you pop your corn in the microwave.
That butter flavor comes from the ingredient diacetyl and it has severely damaged the lungs of those who work in popcorn plants.
"They can't breathe. I mean there is a 25 year old man who can't walk up the stairs. It's asthma like. It's debilitating. It does not get better with removal from the hazard," said Jackie Nowell, United Food and Commercial Workers.
Hundreds of current and former microwave popcorn plant workers from at least 7 states have sued flavoring companies for damage to their lungs when they breathed the fumes from diacetyl. More than 100 have settled out of court.
Plant worker Eric People was awarded $18 million in damages in 2004 for his lung damage. So why is it still being used in plants, and in products consumers eat?
An unreleased EPA draft study that's been underway for years sought to "identify and quantify chemical emissions generated in the process of popping and opening a bag of microwave popcorn".
But the study does not address how those "chemical emissions" affect your lungs.
At least one Indianapolis based company isn't waiting for the EPA to release its final report. Pop Weaver is first major microwave popcorn producer to remove diacetyl from the its product saying:
"....the flavoring has been cited as a possible source of injury to certain employees of food companies who may have inhaled large dosages of diacetyl....since consumers are increasingly concerned about this issue; we have removed diacetyle from our flavorings."
Meanwhile ConAgra foods, which makes Orville Redenbacher and Act II microwave popcorn, says it's seen the EPA draft but won't comment on it until the final report is issued. However it adds:
"...to eliminate even the perception of any concern and to provide the safest possible environment for workers who handle large quantities of diacetyl, we expect to eliminate the use of added diacetyl in our products in the near future."