Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | April 1, 2009

Kentucky environmental lawyer Sanders says diacetly smells and tastes like butter, but can be deadly for workers exposed to high levels in workplace.

Diacetyl flavored popcorn.

Diacetyl flavored popcorn.

Diacetyl is a butter-flavoring chemical used in manufacturing many food items, including microwave popcorn. 

Diacetyl (also called butanedione or 2,3-butanedione, molecular formula C4H6O2) is a natural byproduct of fermentation and is also synthesized by chemical manufacturers. 


 Diacetyl gives butter and certain food flavorings a distinctive buttery flavor and aroma.  Food flavorings containing diacetyl are used in microwave popcorn and other snack foods, pet foods, candies, baked goods, and other food products.  Some food industry experts estimate that around 6,000 food products contain diacetyl as a flavoring agent.


Workers in facilities that use or produce food flavorings may breathe vapors, dusts, or mists containing diacetyl.  If exposed to high levels of diacetyl, workers are at risk of developing bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious and irreversible lung disease that can lead to lung transplants and death.  If exposed at lower levels of diacetyl , symptoms include irritation of the eye, mucous membrane, respiratory system, skin irritation; persistent cough, phlegm production, wheezing, dyspnea (shortness of breath); unusual fatigue; episodes of mild fever or generalized aches; severe skin rashes.


What is the government doing to protect workers exposed to high levels of diacetyl in the workplace?  Well, apparently that is subject to debate at the moment.  On September 25, 2007, OSHA announced its intent to initiate rulemaking to address concerns regarding diacetyl exposure in the workplace pursuant to Section 6(b) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (29 U.S.C. 651, 655).


OSHA hosted a stakeholder meeting on October 17, 2007, as part of its process to gather information for putting together work place safety standards for diacetyl.  The meeting addressed not only specific OSHA information requests, but also identified stakeholder concerns associated with developing a standard addressing occupational exposure to diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl.


The Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) on Occupational Exposure to Diacetyl and Food Flavorings Containing Diacetyl, published January 21, 2009 (74 FR 3938), is withdrawn, effective March 17, 2009.


OSHA also announced its intent to convene a Small Business Advocacy Review (SBAR) Panel, pursuant to the SBREFA, in the Department of Labor’s Semiannual Regulatory Agenda (73 FR 71396, 71399, 11/24/2008).  Under federal law, prior to publication of any proposed safety rule that has a significant

economic impact on a substantial number of small entities, OSHA must convene a SBAR Panel to determine the impacts of such a rule on small businesses and the ways those impacts can be reduced, consistent with the Agency’s statutory requirements to protect worker safety.


On January 21, 2009, OSHA published an ANPRM (74 Federal Register 3938).  The ANPRM requested information and comment from affected companies on issues related to occupational  exposure to diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl, including current employee exposures; the relationship between exposure and the development of adverse health effects; methods to evaluate, monitor, and control exposure; and related topics.


Apparently something was not quite right. Thus, OSHA has decided to withdraw the ANPRM in order to promptly convene a SBAR panel.  We will continue to watch the federal agency deal with this important worker safety issue in the coming months.




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