Popcorn lung may not be limited to workers in popcorn factories, according to a recent report by an investigative journalist.
Severe cases of popcorn lung — also known as bronchiolitis obliterans — have been found in at least five former candy factory workers.
The five worked as candy makers at a now closed Brach’s Candy plant in Chicago, according to Andrew Schneider’s online article.
The plant made butterscotch and butter toffee among other sweets.
One former employee, Doris Stubbs, has to use oxygen almost all the time. Stubbs says some former co-workers have died from breathing problems.
Since the initial reports of employee sickness centered around those working in popcorn plants that used the butter flavoring diacetyl, investigations centered on that industry.
However, some in the safety and health community have questioned whether workers in other food manufacturing plants using diacetyl may also be affected.
The fact that this plant is no longer in operation poses a problem. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can’t perform a Health Hazards Evaluation on a closed plant.
However, Schneider quotes a Teamster official as saying they are having discussions with OSHA about inspecting candy plants in Tennessee.
OSHA has a National Emphasis Program (NEP) to target popcorn manufacturing facilities for inspection. You can read more about the NEP here.