House passes bill on 'popcorn lung'

by Jeff Gelski
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 26 passed H.R. 2693, or the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Protection Act, by a vote of 260-154. It is designed to issue a standard to regulate the exposure of workers at food processing plants to diacetyl, an artificial food flavoring linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, a lung disease that has sickened and killed workers. The disease is also known as "popcorn lung" because diacetyl often is used in the manufacture of microwave popcorn.

The bill now will go to the U.S. Senate. The Bush administration on Sept. 25 said it opposed the bill.

H.R. 2693 was introduced in the House on June 12. It requires the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an interim final standard within 90 days to minimize workers’ exposure to diacetyl in popcorn and flavor manufacturing plants. Employers would be required to develop a written exposure control plan and conduct medical monitoring to determine whether workers’ health continued to be harmed.

"There are real-life consequences for workers when O.S.H.A. drags its feet on issuing health and safety standards — their health and well-being is at risk," said U.S. Representative Lynn Woolsey of California, and chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections of the House Education and Labor Committee. "O.S.H.A. has known about this hazard for years and has yet to take the necessary steps to address it."

The O.S.H.A. already has taken steps to strengthen worker protections in this area, according to the Bush administration. The measures include a rulemaking process under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to address occupational exposure to flavorings containing diacetyl, inspections at microwave popcorn manufacturing plants to ensure acceptable ventilation and other engineering controls are in place; and the issuance of a Safety and Health Information Bulletin that advises employers about diacetyl.

Two of America’s largest popcorn manufacturers took action to remove diacetyl from their products. Weaver Popcorn Co., Inc., Indianapolis, said on Aug. 28 it had eliminated diacetyl from its popcorn brands. ConAgra Foods Inc., Omaha, wants diacetyl out of all its popcorn within a year.

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