Colorado Man Awarded $7 Million in Popcorn Lung Case

Your mother always told you that you are what you eat. And in this case, it turns out that if you consume products with hazardous compounds in them, well, you might wind up dead (or at least with a serious medical condition). As anyone who has eaten popcorn out of a microwave bag knows, that orange film that comes out on the top of your knuckles, well, that’s just not natural. But did anyone really think that the products use to make that popcorn so deliciously “butter flavored” were downright harmful?

Diacetyl, reported as early as February 2009 by CBS News to increase risk of lung disease, is a compound used to create that tasty buttery flavor in your favorite microwave popcorn. This compound, originally thought only to impact popcorn factory workers who inhale higher than average amounts of the substance over a long period of time, has now been linked to a case of lung disease in your everyday consumer. It creates a condition colloquially called “popcorn lung” a chronic and untreatable obstructive pulmonary disorder that makes it difficult for air to flow out of the lungs. The only known cure for the condition is transplant.

Because popcorn companies failed to adequately warn consumers about the dangerous side effects, Wayne Watson age 59, was awarded a $7 million settlement after consuming the stuff daily for years, and being diagnosed with the condition. While “popcorn lung,” medically known as bronchiolitis obliterans has been previously documented among popcorn factory workers, Mr. Watson’s attorney, Kenneth McClaine says he was the first consumer diagnosed with the condition.

The attorneys for the defendants alleged Mr. Watson’s health problems resulted from years of using noxious carpet cleaners for work. Yet, the jurors agreed after a nine-day trial, that the plaintiff belonged with the many who have sued popcorn manufacturers in that past 15 years after being diagnosed with health problems. They found King Sooger Supermarkets and parent Kroger Co liable for 20% of the $7,217,961 damages and Gilster-Mary Lee Corp, the Chester, Illinois, private-labeling manufacturer of the popcorn, liable for the remaining 80 percent that the man was awarded.

Photo credit: Melissa Finkelstein