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Microwave popcorn workers at risk for lung disease

Factory workers in Minnesota who deal with various types of food flavorings may be at risk for developing flavorings-related lung disease. Workers in microwave popcorn plants may be especially at risk for developing an obstructive lung disease like obliterative bronchiolitis. The lung disease is irreversible and can be severe.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health began to investigate flavorings-related lung disease in 2000. The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services asked NIOSH for assistance after it determined that several former employees of a microwave popcorn plant had developed obliterative bronchiolitis. Data from the NIOSH investigation was included in a 2004 report about lung disease among flavorings workers.

Obliterative bronchiolitis causes scarring on a person's smallest lung airways. A person with this disease will experience constricted airflow that results in breathing difficulties. A dry cough, wheezing and shortness of breath are some of the first symptoms of flavorings-related lung disease. Eventually, a worker may develop asthma. Symptoms of flavorings-related lung disease will not go away when a worker leaves the job, and the symptoms may continue to worsen for years after a worker's exposure to the flavorings has stopped.

Flavorings-related lung disease is a disease that develops gradually, and it can sometimes be difficult for flavorings workers to prove that their illness was work-related. Some doctors will mistake an occupational illness like flavorings-related lung disease for asthma or the effects of second-hand smoke. An attorney may be able to help a worker to prove that the workplace illness they sustained from exposure to flavorings are compensable under workers' compensation insurance.

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