A multi-year fight between government safety agencies and a manufacturer of food flavorings comes to the end with a settlement that lowers a fine but also restricts use of a dangerous chemical.
Sensient Flavors says it will reduce its use of diacetyl by 20% now and eliminate its use altogether by the end of this year where feasible.
As part of its settlement with Indiana OSHA, Sensient will pay a $99,000 fine, reduced from an initial total of $367,500 for 37 citations.
This case has been going on for five years.
In 2008, a union asked the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to evaluate health hazards at Sensient’s Indianapolis plant.
NIOSH investigated and requested a second visit to gather more information. The agency had uncovered “pulmonary abnormalities” among workers after the first visit.
In 2009, Sensient sued NIOSH, saying it was “attempting to use Sensient’s facility as its own personal laboratory.” It said it was OK with the agency taking one look, but not another one.
One year later, NIOSH released a health hazard report that found abnormal lung functioning among employees at the Indianapolis plant was several times higher than that of the U.S. population.
The company lost that battle but sued again in 2011 after receiving the Indiana OSHA fines.
Sensient took another hit when Starbucks announced it would end business with the company one week after an article in The Indianapolis Star outlined a variety of safety concerns at the plant.
Regarding the recent settlement, Indiana OSHA says, “the administrative and engineering control represent a good faith effort by Sensient to reduce employee exposures and that these controls will represent a significant cost to Sensient.”
“A number of employees exposed to food flavorings containing diacetyl have developed serious respiratory illness presenting with persistent dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath upon exertion, and fixed airways obstruction on spirometry. Several employees have been diagnosed with asthma or bronchiolitis obliterans. Bronchiolitis obliterans occurs when small airways become inflamed and scarred, resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. The symptoms and airways obstruction range from mild to severe, and do not improve when the employee goes home or on vacation.”
Bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as popcorn lung because flavoring containing diacetyl has been used in the snack food, can be fatal.