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With a name like bronchiolitis obliterans, it can't be good, pt.1

For a coffee drinker, there is nothing like the smell of freshly ground coffee. A study by a Wisconsin newspaper and performed by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that for those who work where coffee beans are roasted and stored, there is a significant risk of developing a serious and potentially deadly lung disease along with that delicious scent.

Coffee beans naturally contain the chemical diacetyl. Diacetyl provides a buttery flavor to food and has been used in the manufacture of microwave popcorn. About a decade ago, it was found to cause "popcorn lung" in workers at plants that produced microwave popcorn.

Diacetyl exposure can cause bronchiolitis obliterans, which as its name suggests can destroy the lungs and lead to death. The chemical occurs naturally in foods such as coffee and beer, and ingesting trace amounts have not been shown to be dangerous. Inhaling it, on the other hand, is very dangerous.

It destroys the bronchioles, which are tiny air passages in the lungs, and once destroyed, the damage is irreversible. The danger has been recognized for years in manufacturing plants that use artificial or natural flavors that contain diacetyl.

There have been efforts to regulate this chemical, but the Occupational Health & Safety Administration has been slow to act and has not issued any regulations that restrict the use of diacetyl in workplaces.

Next time, we will look at why the regulatory process has been so slow to deal with this treat to worker safety.

Source:, "CDC tests at coffee plant find high levels of dangerous chemical," Raquel Rutledge, April 6, 2016

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