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On the Job Hazards: Are Coffee Workers Being Exposed to Hidden Dangers?

Posted on in Wrongful Death
Wisconsin injury attorney, Wisconsin accident lawyer, Wisconsin workers injury attorneyThe United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) has finally issued a warning to workers in the coffee processing field, after years of ignoring numerous complaints and reports of unions and workers in that industry. If you work in a facility where you roast, grind, or add flavor to coffee, and work with the chemicals diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione,(also known as acetyl propionyl), this is very important news.

What Is the Danger?

These two chemicals, diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione, are formed naturally when unflavored coffee is roasted, and the chemicals are released when the coffee is roasted and ground. These chemicals, often added to microwave popcorn to provide the buttery flavor, have been known to cause serious lung disease to workers in microwave popcorn plants, and the most serious bronchial disease caused by exposure has been nicknamed “popcorn lung”. The CDC has been studying exposure to these chemicals for years, and has determined that it is safe to eat the chemicals in trace amounts. It is inhalation of the chemicals that causes damage to the lungs, which is why the inclusion of diacetyl in e-liquids used in electronic cigarettes is at the center of most diacetyl-related controversy these days. Coffee workers, however, inhale diacetyl in much greater amounts than the general population during the roasting and processing of the coffee, and a recent spate of illnesses and deaths of workers in the coffee industry is the reason for the new CDC warning.

What Are the Health Hazards?

Diacetyl has been linked to a rare lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans (“popcorn lung”), and the CDC notice warns that it is often misdiagnosed at the outset, as asthma, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, or even emphysema. While the symptoms may occur gradually, there can also be a sudden onset of the disease, and the CDC warning instructs doctors to consider chemical exposure to diacetyl and 2,3 pentanedione in patients presenting with bronchial illnesses. There are still no guidelines in place regulating diacetyl or 2,3 pentanedione and their use in our food supply, beverages, and other products like e-liquids. It is added to some products, like microwave popcorn, but is naturally occurring in others, like coffee. The coffee industry employs more than 600,000 people in the processing portion of the field throughout the country, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is a significant amount of at-risk people for there not to be any guidelines regarding exposure to dangerous chemicals. Not surprisingly, representatives from the coffee industry have been slow to recognize any dangers posed to their workers from these chemicals. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have implemented a program where one of the agencies will come in free of charge and assess any potential exposure hazards in coffee processing and roasting facilities. The company requesting the testing is allowed to keep its identity confidential if it agrees to fix any problems discovered by the investigator. The director of the Wisconsin Occupation Health Laboratory said his lab had already analyzed some samples from coffee roasting companies in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, and has found levels exceeding safety recommendations, in one case by as much as 14 times the allowed amount.

Contact an Attorney for Help

If you are a coffee processing professional (or work in any facility where diacetyl or 2,3-pentanedione is used), you may be at risk of contracting a serious lung disease, including bronchiolitis obliterans. If you or a loved one has already been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, or if you are worried about your health because of chemical exposure, call or email an experienced Milwaukee personal injury lawyer today to discuss your options.

Sources:

http://cdc.gov/niosh/topics/flavorings/processing.html

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