Last week, a jury in Chicago awarded $30.4 million to chemical-flavoring plant worker Gerardo Solis, 45, who suffers from the disabling lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans. Solis had worked at the Flavorchem Corp plant from 1998 to 2006 and was exposed to the butter-flavoring chemical diacetyl, which is associated with severe respiratory illnesses. Solis's attorney, Ken McClain, told the jury that Solis is totally disabled, with 25% of normal lung capcity; he will likely need a lung transplant within the next 10 years. The jury awarded the verdict against diacetyl supplier BASF Corp. Jeff Lehr of the Joplin Globe explains that other juries have awarded large amounts to other plaintiff who were exposed to diacetyl on the job:
The largest verdict previously awarded to an individual in the cases was $20 million granted by a Jasper County jury to Eric Peoples of Carthage and his wife in 2004. Two $15 million verdicts and a $2.7 million award were rendered to other workers at the former Jasper Popcorn Co. plant. Those cases involved Bush Boake Allen Inc. and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., suppliers of butter flavoring to the plant and not BASF.
My colleagues and I at George Washington University have been following the diacetyl issue for a long time; you can see our blog coverage here and an online case study here. One of the documents we posted to accompany the case study is actually a 1993 study in which laboratory animals were exposed to diacetyl vapor and exhibited symptoms of respiratory-tract injuries after a four-hour exposure. That study was conducted by BASF.
OSHA has finally initiated rulemaking on diacetyl, but as Celeste noted when the most recent Department of Labor regulatory agenda was released, the agency is only at the point of conducting scientific peer review of its draft risk assessment.
In other news:
Houston Chronicle: While workplace fatalities dropped nationwide, work-related fatalities in Texas increased nearly 4% - 480 workers died in the state last year. This is likely due to the fact that Texas hasn't been as economically hard-hit as other states - but it's still surprising, given that OSHA has stepped up enforcements in Texas.
OSHA: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed penalties of $374,500 for Cooperative Plus Inc. for violations at its Whiewater and Genoa City, Wisconsin sites. OSHA also proposed a fine of $721,000 against this grain cooperative following a February incident in which a worker was trapped in soybeans up to his chest for four hours. (Read more about OSHA and grain bin disasters here.)
AFP: Bangladesh's Supreme Court has reinstated a law requiring that ships sent to Bangladesh for scrapping must be certified toxic-free by the governments of the countries that sell them. This is in response to reports that scrap yards routinely ignore labor and environmental standards - a problem that environmental groups say has led to the deaths of hundreds of workers over the past decade.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Several Vietnam veterans whose children have birth defects wonder if these problems are related to the veterans' Agent Orange exposure.
NIOSH Science Blog: Stock-car drivers and those working at car race tracks are exposed to levels of noise that can lead to tinnitus and hearing loss. Mufflers can reduce noise from cars, and/or hearing protection can be used.
Michaels urged OSHA to pursue an Emergency Temporary Standard on Diacetyl. He even devoted an entire chapter to the subject of popcorn lung / diacetyl. Yet, 2 years into the current Administration and the agency has actually moved backwards on the rulemaking. I find that quite intriguing!