- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) — A factory worker who said his lungs were ruined as a result of mixing flavoring oils used in microwave popcorn was awarded $20 million by a jury yesterday.

Eric Peoples was the first of 30 former workers at the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. plant in Jasper to have his suit heard against the two makers of the butter flavoring. After a morning of closing arguments, the jury deliberated for a little more than three hours before returning the verdict.

Mr. Peoples cried and hugged his wife, Cassandra, as the jury ruled against International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and its subsidiary Bush Boake Allen Inc., the manufacturers of the flavoring. They were ordered to pay $18 million to Mr. Peoples and $2 million to his wife for compensatory personal-injury damages.

“We’re relieved that it’s over, and our lives can get back to as normal as they can be,” Mr. Peoples said. “At least for now, we’ll be able to spoil our children and let them forget for a while.”

Trial testimony showed if Mr. Peoples’ health remains stable, he could wait at least 10 years for a needed double-lung transplant; life expectancy of a lung-transplant recipient is about 10 years.

The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has linked exposure to vapors from butter flavoring to lung disease in popcorn factory workers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.

Mr. McClain said his next case in Jasper County is set for April 20. He also has cases pending in Illinois and Iowa.

Health officials say people who microwave popcorn and eat it at home are not in danger, although the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the chemicals released into the air when a bag of microwave popcorn is heated.

Mr. Peoples’ suit charged that International Flavors and Fragrances and Bush Boake Allen knew that their butter flavoring was hazardous, but failed to warn the southwestern Missouri plant and its workers of the dangers or provide adequate safety instructions.

During their closing, lawyers for the two companies told jurors that their product is safe when handled properly.

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