A Colorado man was awarded $7.2 million by a federal court jury for his "popcorn lung."
Wayne Watson says that he used to eat two bags of popcorn every day for 10 years. In 2007, he was diagnosed with popcorn lung, or bronchiolitis obliterans, by Cecile Rose. Rose, who also served as a witness for the prosecution, had been a consultant in the flavorings industry and had seen the disease develop in workers. The irreversible condition scars lung tissue so much that airflow and lung capacity is severely reduced.
Watson says that his lung capacity, on a good day, is at 53 percent.
Watson's lawyers argued that his condition occurred not because he was eating inordinate amounts of popcorn, but because of the constant inhalation of diacetyl. The chemical is often added to microwave buttered popcorn to enhance the flavor. Diacetyl has since been cut out of the production process by many popcorn manufacturers, because factory workers were developing popcorn lung. The chemical has also been linked to Alzheimer's disease. Watson's case was the latest in a 15-year string of cases filed by factory workers who had developed the same condition.
Watson and his lawyers argued that popcorn manufacturers should have put labels on their food announcing that large amounts of the chemical was harmful to consumers. After nine days of hearing both sides, jurors agreed with Watson. They deliberated for a day.
The jury found the Chester, Illinois-based Glister-Mary Lee Corporation, the popcorn manufacturer, liable for 80 percent of the $7 million award. King Soopers supermarket chain, and its parent company Kroger, were liable for 20 percent.
The defendants stated that Watson's condition was most likely a result of his time working with chemicals as a carpet cleaner. They say that they are disappointed by the decision and plan to appeal. Watson plans to give some of the money to charity. He says that he has not eaten microwave popcorn since his diagnosis in 2007.
Diacetyl is classified as a safe chemical by the Food and Drug Administration, though a toxicology report published in March did admit that large amounts of the additive can lead to bronchiolitis obliterans.