House backs limits on "popcorn lung" additive

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 26, 2007 6:08pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Exposure to a microwave popcorn additive linked to a deadly lung disease would be swiftly regulated under a bill passed on Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives, defying a White House veto threat.

The bill would order quick action by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to limit exposure to diacetyl, which is linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, or "popcorn lung," a disorder found in popcorn plant workers.

The House bill was approved by a 260-154 vote. No companion bill has been under consideration in the Senate, but Sen. Edward Kennedy praised the House and called for action.

"Too many workers exposed to diacetyl have become ill or even died. The Senate should pass the bill as soon as possible," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

The Bush administration said on Tuesday it would be "premature" to regulate diacetyl -- which gives microwave popcorn a buttery flavor -- as proposed in the bill, a view shared by some House Republicans.

"Fundamentally, the science does not exist to state the link between diacetyl and impaired lung function," said South Carolina Republican Joe Wilson in floor debate.

But Democrats criticized the record of OSHA and the Bush administration on addressing popcorn lung.

"The time has come for Congress to act ... We're all terribly disappointed by the failure of OSHA to engage this problem," said California Democrat George Miller.

Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro said cases of popcorn lung have been identified over several years in popcorn workers in Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, New Jersey and Illinois.

"Scientists have called diacetyl's effect on workers' lungs 'astonishingly grotesque' and likened it to 'inhaling acid' ... The science on this chemical's danger is clear," said DeLauro.

The House bill would require the Labor Department to develop interim standards, limiting diacetyl exposure by workers in flavor manufacturing plants and microwave popcorn factories. The interim standard would be in effect for up to two years while a final regulation is prepared.

The Food and Drug Administration said on September 5 it was investigating a report of a man who came down with the life-threatening disease after eating several bags of butter-flavored microwave popcorn each day.

In April, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said workers at factories making food flavorings and popcorn run the risk of contracting the disease, which causes coughing and shortness of breath and steadily worsens.

At least two microwave popcorn makers -- ConAgra Foods Inc and Weaver Popcorn Co Inc -- have said recently that they would stop using diacetyl.

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