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OSHA to increase popcorn plant inspections


WASHINGTON--The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is stepping up inspections of food processing plants making microwave popcorn in an effort to prevent more workers from developing a serious lung disease.

"We recognize that there are potential occupational health hazards associated with butter flavorings containing diacetyl," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Edwin G. Foulke Jr. "Under this program, OSHA will target inspection resources to those workplaces where we anticipate the highest employee exposures to these hazards."

OSHA's "National Emphasis Program," which it announced Tuesday, will increase inspections and hazard control activities at about 40 U.S. plants in states where OSHA oversees the safety and health of workers, an OSHA spokeswoman said. The 24 states and two U.S. territories that operate their own OSHA programs are encouraged, but not required, to adopt a similar program, OSHA said in a statement.

After the first reports of problems in a Jasper, Mo., plant in 2000, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and affected industries conducted an intensive study of exposed workers' ailments, which typically begin with a progressive cough and shortness of breath on exertion. Severe cases result in bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious, irreversible lung disease caused by a narrowing or obstruction the small airways in the lungs, NIOSH said in a statement. Several workers with very serious disease have been placed on lung transplant waiting lists, it said.