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THE NATION

Oh No, Not Secondhand Popcorn?

March 12, 2004|From Associated Press

The Environmental Protection Agency is studying the chemicals released into the air when a bag of microwave popcorn is popped or opened.

Exposure to vapors from butter flavoring in microwave popcorn has been linked to a rare lung disease contracted by factory workers in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has said it suspects the chemical diacetyl caused the illnesses.

However, health officials say people who microwave popcorn and eat it at home are not in danger.

In the first direct study of chemicals contained in one of the nation's most popular snack foods, the EPA's Indoor Environment Management Branch at Research Triangle Park, N.C., is examining the type and amount of chemicals emitted from microwave popcorn bags.

Further research would be needed to determine any health effects of those chemicals and whether consumers are at risk, said Jacky Rosati, an EPA scientist involved in the study.

The EPA study began last fall and is expected to be completed this year. It probably will be submitted for peer review before being made public, Thompson said.

Rosati started the study after hearing a presentation on popcorn workers who became sick at the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. plant in Jasper, Mo.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has linked diacetyl to the respiratory illnesses found in workers who mix the microwave popcorn flavorings. Investigators believe the chemical becomes hazardous when it is heated and there is repeated exposure to large quantities over a long time.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Assn., based in Washington, said the flavor ingredients in microwave popcorn pose no threat to consumers.

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