Microwave popcorn chemical leads to $7 million verdict for “popcorn lung”
Thursday, September 20, 2012
A suburban Denver man who suffered lung damage believed to have been caused by inhaling a chemical used in flavoring microwave popcorn — a condition sometimes referred to as “popcorn lung” — was awarded $7.3 million in damages by a federal court jury on September 19. The award included $5 million in punitive damages.
Wayne Watson says he has “on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity” after eating two or three bags of microwave popcorn every day for about 10 years. Watson’s physician, Dr. Cecile Rose, testified she believes the scarring of Watson’s airways was caused by diacetyl, a chemical that was used in the butter flavoring of microwave popcorn. The jury agreed with Watson’s claim that the popcorn should have included a label warning of the danger of diacetyl.
The connection between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans was established more than a decade ago after the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health began investigating the disease in employees of a microwave popcorn plant in Missouri.
“They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference,” Watson told ABC News. “Well, they rolled the dice and they lost.”
The jury found the popcorn manufacturer, Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., 80 percent at fault for Watson’s illness, with the parent companies of the supermarket where he bought the popcorn 20 percent at fault.
Attorney Max Kennerly has written more about both the science and the law involved in the Watson case. And our site includes a story posted in May 2010 by journalist Rita Beamish about “popcorn lung” and diacetyl.