Can microwaving butter flavored popcorn or a frozen TV dinner destroy your lungs and kill you?
However, no government agency appears interested in finding out—not even for the poor workers who are exposed to diacetyl, the synthetic butter flavoring agent. Diacetyl is used in margarine, faux butters, cooking oil, lard, and in thousands of frozen products.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared diacetyl back in the 1950s and 80s as a food additive, because 1) it occurs naturally in real butter, and 2) they tested it by ingestion (eating it). The problem appears to be that when diacetyl is breathed into the body, such as when you open that steaming hot bag of microwave popcorn, diacetyl produces a number of toxins that are very harmful to the lungs. So harmful, that “dozens of workers at a microwave popcorn plant in Jasper, Mo., developed a rare disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, which destroys the lungs” [Baltimore Sun]
Since the FDA already cleared diacetyl as a butter flavoring, and since it seems to only test things you eat (as opposed to inhaling), they don’t want to run any more tests. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has conducted a few studies, but it is not releasing the information to the public. The EPA is responsible for air quality in the U.S.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), members of Congress, and the Teamsters and other unions requested the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to set standards for workplace exposure. So far, no such standards have been set.
It looks like my mother’s good advice rings true: eat a variety of foods, and don’t go overboard on any one. She also advises me to eat my veggies, don’t stay up so late, and to drink plenty of water each day. She’s so smart. 🙂