Welcome to The Pump Handle

Since we broke the story of the first “popcorn lung” case in a popcorn consumer, many new readers have visited The Pump Handle. We’ve been writing about the hazards of diacetyl for years (here and here, for example). If this is your first visit, you might want to know who we are, where our name comes from, and why we are constantly writing about ways the FDA, EPA, OSHA, MSHA, CPSC, and other federal regulatory agencies could better protect our health and environment.

The story of the pump handle dates to the London cholera epidemic of 1854, when John Snow examined maps of cholera cases and traced the disease to water from a local pump. At the time, the prevailing theory held that cholera spread through the air, rather than water, so Snow faced criticism from others in the science community – not to mention resistance from the water companies. He finally convinced community leaders to remove the pump’s handle to prevent further exposure.

The Pump Handle blog is a group effort; our contributors include scientists and public health professionals who formerly worked for the FDA, OSHA, MSHA, DOE and other federal agencies. These agencies are, or should be, the guardians of the public’s health, and many of our posts focus on ways to improve their work. We’ve become an important voice in the public health community’s efforts to reform the FDA, protect coal miners, strengthen OSHA, prevent “popcorn lung”, among other issues.

The Pump Handle is affiliated with the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at the George Washington University School of Public Health. SKAPP examines the nature of science and how it is used and misused in government decision-making and legal proceedings. Through empirical research, conversations among scholars, and publications, SKAPP aims to enhance understanding of how knowledge is generated and interpreted. For more information and many publications available for downloading, visit SKAPP’s website www.DefendingScience.org.

If you’re interested in contributing to The Pump Handle, please send an email to thepumphandle [at] gmail[dot] com. If you’d like to subscribe to our weekly email digest, send an email with “subscribe” in the subject line to that same address.

Comments

  1. #1 KK
    September 5, 2007

    This is disturbing news. I always knew that microwave popcorn was a disaster so I never bought it because of the trans fats. The best way to make popcorn is to buy kernals and use rice bran oil (smoke point is very high at 490 degrees). It takes the same amount of time that microwave popcorn takes and it tastes better!!

  2. #2 Taoe
    September 5, 2007

    careful what you believe. theyre using corn for fuel now. how much of this is simply a means to reduce popcorn consumption. if you ever heard of just how STAGGERINGLY HUGE TONNAGE of popcorn that americans consume every day, you wouldnt think it so strange that there would be a push to de-popularise it.

  3. #3 Brett
    September 5, 2007

    Taoe: none

    More corn is eaten by cattle than humans.

    It’s AWESOME we got people engaging in the discourse though!

    so far only ONE industry guy has posted- not too bad, but those guys always seem to show up 3-4 weeks later with “new studies” from “reputable scientistists”

  4. #4 Shane
    September 5, 2007

    I’ve been gathering qualified information about microwave cooking hazards. I’ll send you what sources I have if you are interested. Thank you so much for your efforts.

  5. #5 Kate
    September 5, 2007

    I went to a daycare that popped multiple bags of popcorn daily because it was an easy snack. I think it is important for people to be aware that this could be hazardous, and wonder if babies and small children might be more susceptible to the toxins.

  6. #6 Sinclair
    September 5, 2007

    I do not own a microwave, and have not consumed microwave popcorn for years, although I was given my fair share in my younger years. I have begun a grassroots effort to create an awareness of the dangers of chemicals in all facets of life, and hope that our many voices united will make a difference. I applaud your site, and your efforts.

  7. #7 Emily
    September 6, 2007

    Is this chemical in all brands? Or is it in just certain ones? The microwave popcorn that I have here at home doesn’t say anything about this chemical on the ingredients. It only says natural flavors.

  8. #8 forest smith
    September 6, 2007

    I thought I was crazy! I start to cough uncontrollably whenever I smell butter flavored popcorn being popped in the microwave. As soon as I draw in a breath of air with the smell, I start coughing immediately. Finally, I feel vindicated. Hmmm, I wonder if I can pimp myself out to researchers who want to study the effects? I have never heard of anyone else having this problem.

  9. #9 Vern Aiton
    September 6, 2007

    I find this popcorn lung issue to be of great personal interest as I had a serious bout of lung sarcoidosis about eight years ago….simce then I have been unable to attend a movie as the theater popcorn fumes overwhelm me and I must get outside to breath freely….I don’t do the microwave popcorn thing.

  10. #10 John
    September 6, 2007

    Let’s put this into perspective. Too much of anything can be bad for your health. Some studies have shown too much fruit juice can lead to obesity and eating too many carrots can turn your skin orange. Pumping yourself full of too many vitamins can cause nausea, headaches, and some other generally unpleasant things. Heck, too much water can kill you! So why does it seem to create such a stir when some guy gets sick from eating too much butter-flavored popcorn?

    “Toxic aromatic butter fumes” aside, one bag of this stuff has 7g of fat each, and this guy says he ate several of them daily for several years!! Even the light version has 4g per bag! How could that NOT be bad for you?

    Let’s just relax, ok?! All together now, inhale deeply, exhale slowly, keep this up until you no longer feel panicked. But don’t do it too much or you’ll pass out!!

  11. #11 Barbara
    September 7, 2007

    I just discovered your blog. I will bookmark it. I also added your story to my blog, Barbara’s Journey Toward Justice. I am sure I will visit often. Great blog you have.

  12. #12 martha
    September 7, 2007

    Please open a blog on workplace bullying. It abounds in civil service, education and health care. The misery created is incredible. If anybody doubts this they can contact our support group for some striking examples. In each case the attack was sustained, highly focused and sophisticated. Here are some examples:

    1) Boss grabs her female subordinates’ breasts, but tells management she was just adjusting their blouses.
    2) Boss creates negative and untrue information about target, in order to get company to fire them. Unfortunately, there is such a profusion of negative paper, there is no process that allows you time to debunk it all.
    3) Boss constantly eavesdrops and interrupts you when you’re on the phone, and orders you to stop work related phone calls without explaining this to the listener.
    4) Boss calls you at home when you’ve had surgery in order to “catch” you interrupting him so he can document your bad manners!
    5) Boss gets other people to try to get you to take a second smoke break in the a.m. so he can document you abused your breaks.
    6) Instructions change after you carry them out, so the boss can “document” you can’t follow instructions.
    7) Verbally abusive boss painfully degrades you behind closed doors, and then denies it when you tell HR in your company.

    These are real things that happen, with a profusion of other behaviors. There is no justice without a bill, as it’s perfectly legal to treat an employee like this as long as it’s not for a protected group reason.

    I am Martha from stopthebullies@comcast.net and I do not get paid a dime for blogging. I had to stop work under worker’s comp. and have been subjected to these behaviors for over two years. Our union is almost useless at the moment.

  13. #13 wu ming
    September 12, 2007

    i’ve been suspicious of that nasty microwave popcorn butter vapor for years, i feel vindicated. keep up the good work.

    additionaally, while i’m coming at this from more of a layman citizen perspective, i thought you might be interested in a post i did recently, “A Clever Smokescreen on Flame Retardants and AB 706,” on a corporate disinfo campaign to stop a bill in the CA state assembly/state senate that would ban the use of bromated and chlorinated fire retardants in bedding and furniture, on public health grounds.