Potential peril from microwave popcorn

Steve Henn May 10, 2007

BOB MOON: Have you noticed how the mood somehow seems to improve when the sound and smell of corn popping makes its way through the office? Maybe not once you hear this, though — Marketplace’s Steve Henn says a serious threat to microwave popcorn is popping in Washington.

STEVE HENN: Looks good, but some public health experts are warning “don’t inhale.” That’s because an ingredient in microwave popcorn, diacetyl, has been linked to a horrible degenerative lung disease in food workers.

DAVID MICHAELS: Just for the record, we do make microwave popcorn at home.

But Dr. David Michaels doesn’t stick his nose in the bag. The FDA says diacetyl is only dangerous at high levels. But Michaels, a public health expert at George Washington University, isn’t so sure.

DAVID MICHAELS:To me, the FDA statement is an example of faith-based public health policy. There are no studies of exposure at lower levels — so how can we say it’s safe?

Michaels asked the FDA to remove diacetyl from its list of safe chemicals eight months ago, and got no response. Now, Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) has asked the agency to take the ingredient off the market. And DeLauro’s going to be tough to ignore: she oversees the FDA’s budget in Congress.

From Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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