NIOSHTIC-2 Publications Search

Characterization of respiratory exposures at a microwave popcorn plant with cases of bronchiolitis obliterans.

Kullman G; Boylstein R; Jones W; Piacitelli C; Pendergrass S; Kreiss K
J Occup Environ Hyg 2005 Mar; 2(3):169-178
Eight former workers from a microwave popcorn packaging plant were reported to have severe obstructive lung disease consistent with bronchiolitis obliterans. Investigations into respiratory exposures at this plant were done during August through November of 2000. Samples were collected to assess airborne particulate concentrations, particle size distributions, endotoxins, oxides of nitrogen, organic gases and vapors, and other analytes. Bulk corn and flavoring components were also analyzed for endotoxins and culturable bacteria and fungi. Workers in the microwave production areas of the plant were exposed to particulates and a range of organic vapors from flavorings. The particles were comprised largely of salt and oil/grease particles. Respirable dust concentrations (area plus personal) in the microwave mixer job category, the highest job exposure category in the plant, ranged from 0.13 milligrams per cubic meter of air (mg/m3) to a high of 0.77 mg/m3. Endotoxin concentrations were below 60 endotoxin units per cubic meter of air (EU/m3). Qualitative sampling for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air detected over 100 different VOCs in the microwave area. The predominant compounds identified in the microwave mixing room included the ketones diacetyl, methyl ethyl ketone, acetoin, and 2-nonanone, and acetic acid. Diacetyl, the predominant ketone in the plant, was present in concentrations ranging from below detectable limits to 98 parts per million parts air by volume (ppm), with a mean of 8.1 ppm (standard deviation 18.5 ppm). The average ketone concentrations were highest in the microwave mixing room where the 10 area samples had a mean diacetyl concentration of 37.8 ppm (SD 27.6 ppm) and a mean acetoin concentration of 3.9 ppm (SD 4.3 ppm). These data show that workers involved in microwave popcorn packaging can be exposed to a complex mixture of VOCs from flavoring ingredients; animal studies show that diacetyl can cause airway epithelial injury, although the contributions of other specific compound(s) associated with obstructive respiratory disease in these workers is still unresolved.
Occupational-exposure; Respiratory-system-disorders; Workers; Worker-health; Lung-disease; Pulmonary-system-disorders; Airborne-particles; Particulates; Endotoxins; Organic-vapors; Organic-compounds; Qualitative-analysis; Sampling; Food-additives; Food-processing-industry; Food-processing-workers; Foodstuff; Airway-obstruction; Pulmonary-function-tests; Spirometry; Ventilation; Quality-control; Author Keywords: artificial butter flavoring; bronchiolitis obliterans; diacetyl; ketones
Greg Kullman, NIOSH, 1095 Willowdale Road, Morgantown, WV 26505
431-03-8; 513-86-0; 64-19-7
Publication Date
Document Type
Journal Article
Email Address
Fiscal Year
Issue of Publication
NIOSH Division
Source Name
Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
Page last reviewed: July 30, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division