In recent years, certain flavorings, especially artificial butter flavoring, have been implicated as the cause of the newest occupational lung disease: flavorings-induced bronchiolitis obliterans. Bronchiolitis obliterans is a very rare lung disease that typically occurs as a complication of organ transplantation, is progressive and is generally considered to be incurable, other than by lung transplantation. Bronchiolitis obliterans is a “fixed” obstructive lung disease, meaning that pulmonary function does not appreciably improve with bronchodilation. In the early stages of flavorings-induced bronchiolitis obliterans, obstruction is not fixed and the disease is often diagnosed as asthma.
Since flavorings workers are exposed to many toxic flavorings chemicals, when the disease was first recognized, it was unclear whether just one or multiple flavorings chemicals were responsible. To date, one chemical, diacetyl, has clearly been implicated as a cause of the disease, because the disease has been diagnosed among workers in flavorings plants where diacetyl is used as well as a diacetyl manufacturing plant. It is uncertain at the present time how many other flavoring chemicals may also cause the disease. Other highly suspect chemicals include acetoin (which can decompose to become diacetyl), acetaldehyde, and benzaldehyde.
In 2004 the Flavor and Extracts Manufacturers Association (FEMA) published a booklet identifying 34 chemicals whose potential respiratory hazards to flavorings workers it considers a “high priority” to be studied and evaluated: Acetaldehyde, Acetic acid, Acetoin, Allyl mercaptan, Ammonium sulfide, Benzaldehyde, Butylamine, Butyric acid, Diacetyl, Ethyl acrylate, Formic acid, Furfural, Hydrogen sulfide, Isobutyraldehyde, Isobutyric acid, Isopentylamine, Methyl mercaptan, Methyl sulfide, 2,4-pPentadienal, 2-Pentenal, Phenol, Phosphoric acid, Piperidine, Propanethiol, 2-Propanethiol, Propionaldehyde, Propionic acid, Pyridine, Pyrrolidine, 1-Pyrroline, Resorcinol, Sulfur dioxide, Trimethylamine, and Valeraldehyde. Studies of the respiratory toxicity of these chemicals has only just begun and workers in the flavorings industry continue to be exposed to these toxic chemicals, although Diacetyl use has largely ceased.
The Metzger Law Group began litigating cases of flavorings workers in 2007 when physicians affiliated with UCLA and USC began diagnosing this rare disease in exposed flavorings workers and referred the sick workers to the firm for legal representation. Currently, the firm is representing workers who developed bronchiolitis obliterans from exposure to flavorings at Carmi Flavors & Fragrance Company and Gold Coast Ingredients, both located in the City of Commerce. Several of these workers are totally disabled from bronchiolitis obliterans. Some have received lung transplants and others are awaiting lung transplantation.