People in South Carolina who work in plants that manufacture flavorings or microwave popcorn should be aware of symptoms of a lung disease known as obliterative bronchiolitis. It is caused by constriction and scarring in lung airways that restricts breathing. Symptoms may range from a mild cough without phlegm to a severe cough, difficulty breathing during exertion and wheezing.
The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety has put together a topic page about obliterative bronchiolitis. NIOSH says that workers should have a medical evaluation if they display any of these symptoms or irritation of the skin, eye, nose and throat or if abnormal lung function shows up in spirometry testing. It is also possible that workers might suffer burns or asthma-related illnesses while working with flavorings. Workers may need to wear protective clothing or may not be able to return to the workplace.
NIOSH has been researching the flavorings and microwave popcorn industry since being asked to aid the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services in investigating the disease in former workers at a plant there. The organization is continuing to collect and evaluate information about workers exposed to the disease and wants to hear from workers with lung problems. NIOSH will also evaluate workplaces for hazards on the request of workers, management or labor unions.
Some workers might not realize that if they develop an occupational disease, they may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. An employer might try to retaliate against a worker who does file a claim for workers’ compensation with termination or another adverse action, but this is illegal. Employees who become ill and suspect their workplace is responsible may want to consult an attorney about their rights and the steps that need to be taken.