Microwave popcorn fans worried about the potential for lung disease from butter flavoring fumes should know this: The sole reported case of the disease in a nonfactory worker involves a man who popped the corn every day and inhaled from the bag.
"He really liked microwave popcorn. He made two or three bags every day for 10 years," said William Allstetter, a spokesman for National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver where the man's respiratory illness was diagnosed.
"He told us he liked the smell of popcorn, so he would open and inhale from freshly popped bags," Allstetter said.
There are no warnings from federal regulators, nor is there medical advice on how consumers should treat news of the rare, life-threatening disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as popcorn lung.
The popcorn flavoring contains the chemical diacetyl, which has been linked to lung damage in workers inhaling its fumes in food manufacturing plants. The chemical is a naturally occurring compound that gives butter its flavor and is also found in cheese, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health.
It's been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a flavor ingredient, but hundreds of workers have sued flavoring makers in recent years over lung damage.
Dr. David Weissman, head of NIOSH's division of respiratory diseases, said the key difference between homes and the factories where popcorn lung has been found is in the level of exposure to diacetyl. For example, he said, sickened quality control workers at a Jasper, Mo., popcorn factory popped hundreds of bags a day.
The first case of lung damage from a home popcorn maker came to light yesterday in a recent letter to federal regulators from Dr. Cecile Rose, a lung specialist at National Jewish.