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Worker-related asthma is considered the most common occupational lung disease, affecting an estimated 15 percent of adult workers with asthma. But people who work with diacetyl without sufficient protection are also putting themselves at risk for lung disease, particularly obliterative bronchiolitis, a severe and obstructive lung disease for which there is no cure.

Diacetyl and Food

Diacetyl occurs naturally in low concentrations in foods such as dairy products, honey, and beer, and because of its buttery taste, it is frequently added as a flavoring to numerous processed foods during the manufacturing process, including:

  • Popcorn
  • Potato and corn chips
  • Flavored syrups
  • Chocolate and cocoa products
  • Desserts, candy, and confectionery products
  • Prepared frostings
  • Milk, cheese, and butter

While eating diacetyl does not usually present a problem, breathing it can be hazardous, and workers who are regularly exposed to diacetyl vapors, sprays, or dust are at above-normal risk for developing bronchiolitis obliterans. Although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that information regarding diacetyl be included on product Material Safety Data Sheets, it is often present in low quantities and may not be specifically listed.

Symptoms of Obliterative Bronchiolitis

Many workers with obliterative bronchiolitis have no idea that they have it, or that they got it from their workplace, likely because their symptoms do not improve when they go home or over the weekend. Those who suffer from the condition may exhibit a number of symptoms, including:

  • Shortness of breath on exertion
  • A dry cough without phlegm
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia (BOOP)

Regular exposure to diacetyl causes the bronchioles to be injured, scarred, constricted, and smaller in size. Some workers have developed such severe, disabling lung disease that they have been placed on lung transplant waiting lists.

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