Popcorn plant workers claim pulmonary issues after diacetyl exposure

Kelly Holleran Oct. 13, 2011, 1:40am


Six women claim they suffer from varying ailments, including lung cancer, after they were exposed to diacetyl, a hazardous, naturally occurring substance throughout their careers.

Helen Bahre, Kelly Brown, Diana Cole, Sabrina Falkenberry, Michelle Richards and Brenda Warchol filed a complaint Oct. 3 in St. Clair County Circuit Court against Berje, Centrome, Chemtura Corporation, Consumers Flavoring Extract Co., DSM Food Specialties, Flavor Concepts, Fona International, Frutarom USA, Givaudan Flavor Corporation, International Flavors and Frangrances, Kerry, O'Laughlin Industries, Penta Manufacturing, Phoenix Essantial Oils and Aromas, Sethness-Greenleaf, Sigma-Aldrich Corporation, Virginia Dare Extract and Wild Flavors.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege they either previously worked for or are currently employed by Gilster Mary Lee Corp., which is a food manufacturer in Steelville and Chester that produces popcorn, among other foods, according to the complaint.

As part of its popcorn producing process, Gilster Mary Lee Corp. uses the substance diacetyl, which is a naturally occurring product that imitates a butter flavoring, the suit states. However, diacetyl has also been linked to damages in the pulmonary system, the complaint says. For instance, the plaintiffs allege the substance can cause pulmonary fibrosis, bronchiolitis obliterans, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe lung impairment, chronic cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, obstructive and restrictive abnormalities and/or lung cancer.

The plaintiffs blame the defendants, who all manufactured or sold the diacetyl, for causing their unspecified health conditions, saying the defendants negligently included the substance in their products even though they knew of the harm it could cause, among other negligent acts.

"Defendants undertook the wrongful acts described herein because the safety measures necessary to protect plaintiffs' health took time and cost money, and defendants chose not to undertake safety measures in order to save time and money, thereby putting convenience and corporate profits ahead of occupational health," the suit states.

"Defendants' wrongful acts and omissions were outrageous because of defendants' evil motive or reckless indifference for the rights of others."

Because of their exposure to diacetyl, the plaintiffs suffered severe and irreparable damages to their respiratory and pulmonary systems, lost their enjoyment of life, experienced physical limitations, sustained physical pain and suffering and suffered mental and emotional distress, according to the complaint. They also lost their wages and income and incurred medical costs, the suit states.

In their two-count complaint, the plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages of more than $100,000, plus costs and other relief the court deems just.

Tom R. Burcham III of Farmington, Mo. will be representing them.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number: 11-L-559.

More News