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In February, an Orange County, California jury awarded a $2.6 million verdict to a 38-year-old Tongan American man who was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans as a result of a work exposure to diacetyl, a toxic chemical commonly used in the food flavoring industry.

Tanu Vatuvei worked with diacetyl on a daily basis for nearly 10 years at Mission Flavors & Fragrances, Inc., an Orange County flavor manufacturing plant. He contracted bronchiolitis obliterans as a result of his exposure to diacetyl and was left with only 40 percent of his lung function. Vatuvei’s disease has since progressed to the point where it is now difficult for him to get around without losing his breath, and may eventually need a lung transplant to save his life.

What is Diacetyl?

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), diacetyl is a natural by product of fermentation and is also synthesized by chemical manufacturers to mimic the taste and texture of butter. Food flavorings containing diacetyl are commonly used in microwave popcorn and other snack foods.

Food flavoring chemicals are generally very volatile, evaporate into the air from their liquid or solid form and can be easily inhaled. They can also be inhaled in the form of a powder if airborne dust is created during the production process, and the application of heat in the production process can further increase the amount of flavoring chemicals that are released into the air.

According to the CDC, a study from the Netherlands showed that chemical workers in a plant that manufactured diacetyl developed the same type of lung disease as microwave popcorn workers, and overall, current evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease, although other flavoring ingredients may also play a role.  Sadly, it now appears that along with asbestos, diacetyl is one of the largest areas of workplace chemical exposure and we continue to talk to individuals that are now experiencing the side effects from this serious lung disease.  We expect to see more diacetyl lawsuits filed as a result of workplace exposure.

TorHoerman Law, LLC, a firm that represents clients nationally in personal injury, drug, medical device, and toxic exposure lawsuits represented Vatuvei in the case.

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