- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is testing microwave popcorn to determine whether it emits any harmful chemicals.

The study focuses on the type and amount of chemicals released by microwave popcorn and does not examine the potential for associated health risks, the EPA said. The study is part of a series of studies by the EPA focusing on indoor air pollutants.

“The objective of the microwave-popcorn study is to characterize emissions from microwave-popped popcorn as a contributor to potential indoor air pollution,” EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Ackerman said in a statement yesterday.

Popcorn factory workers are at risk for health problems because prolonged exposure to the chemicals, said Fred Blosser, spokesman for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

A NIOSH study has linked diacetyl, a chemical found in artificial butter flavoring, to a rare lung disease contracted by factory workers at the Glister-Mary Lee Corp. microwave-popcorn plant in Jasper, Mo.

The NIOSH study, begun in 2000, has found that prolonged exposure to diacetyl and other chemicals used in making microwave popcorn placed the workers at high risk for bronchiolitis obliterans and other lung diseases, Mr. Blosser said.

“We found evidence of serious lung disease in some workers caused by prolonged exposure to airborne concentrations of these chemicals,” he said.

The study focused on the health risks and safety concerns of workers and did not identify any potential risk for consumers of microwave popcorn. NIOSH investigators said the high risk of lung disease for workers comes from their repeated exposure to large amounts of the chemicals.

“Our focus is on occupational risk,” Mr. Blosser said, “The workers are exposed to big vats of these chemicals all day, five days a week. We don’t see the same kind of exposure in the everyday consumption of microwave popcorn by consumers.”

Health officials agree there appears to be no danger to consumers of microwave popcorn.

“These chemicals will have no impact on people consuming the product. The chemicals are only in the air when the product is being produced,” said Rolando A. Andrewn, chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the District of Columbia.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration said butter flavoring is safe for consumer use, and popcorn manufacturers insist that the product poses no threat.

“We have no reason to believe microwave popcorn is harmful to consumers in anyway,” said Bob McCuen, spokesman for ConAgra Foods Inc., the company that manufactures the Orville Redenbacher and Act II brands. “We have spoken with the EPA about their study, and we continue to believe that it is completely safe to manufacture, produce and consume microwave popcorn.”

The EPA said its study, which began last fall, should be completed sometime this year.

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