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Sept 23, 2012 by APRIL McCARTHY
If You're Still Eating Microwave Popcorn, You're Not Fully Grasping The Health Consequences


If you really want to know the damaging effects of microwave popcorn, ask a Colorado man who was recently awarded $7.2 million in damages for contracting a chronic condition from microwave popcorn.



Wayne Watson, 59, claimed that the popcorn manufacturer and the supermarket chain that sold it were negligent by failing to warn on labels that the butter flavoring, diacetyl, was dangerous.

Jurors found Gilster-Mary Lee Corp, the Chester, Illinois, private-labeling manufacturer of the popcorn, liable for 80 percent of the $7,217,961 damages and the King Soopers supermarket chain and its parent, Kroger Co, liable for 20 percent.

Compounds known to break down into the suspected carcinogen PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) are served up to millions of unwitting consumers in bags of microwave popcorn. The so-called "family treat" could account for more than 20% of the average PFOA levels now measured in the blood of the U.S. population.

Some of the papers used for packaging food are treated with grease-repelling fluorotelomer coatings. Microwave popcorn bags have the most of any food wrappers-- about 4000 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) in the coating or 25 mg per square decimeter of paper. Many of these coatings contain mixtures of long-chain chemicals that can be metabolized to PFOA.

Scientists are also beginning to understand one of life's enduring mysteries - diacetyl (DA) which is a chemical that imparts the buttery flavour in microwave popcorn. The food flavoring ingredient used to produce the distinctive buttery flavor and aroma of microwave popcorn, margarines, snack foods, candy, baked goods, pet foods and other products.

"Popcorn lung" is a condition in the form of obstructive lung disease which makes it difficult for air to flow out of the lungs and is irreversible Watson, of suburban Denver, was the first consumer of microwave popcorn diagnosed with the disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, his attorney Kenneth McClain said.

Watson was diagnosed in 2007 at Denver's National Jewish Health, a respiratory health center, after years of inhaling the smell of artificial butter on the popcorn he said he ate daily.

The verdict was the latest in a line of cases in the past 15 years, starting with workers in popcorn plants where diacetyl was an ingredient, that has linked the chemical to health problems.

At real-world occupational exposure levels, DA enhanced toxic effects on nerve cells growing in the laboratory. Other lab experiments have shown that DA easily penetrated the so-called “blood-brain barrier,” which keeps many harmful substances from entering the brain. DA also stopped a protective protein called glyoxalase I from safeguarding nerve cells. “In light of the chronic exposure of industry workers to DA, this study raises the troubling possibility of long-term neurological toxicity mediated by DA,” say the researchers.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

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