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Public Statements

Letters to Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Labor

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


KENNEDY, MURRAY ON THE URGENT NEED FOR FEDERAL REGULATION OF DIACETYL EXPOSURE

Today, Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Patty Murray sent the following letters to Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Labor expressing concern over the public health risks of diacetyl, a chemical found in artificial flavorings.

Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said, "Recent reports that both manufacturing workers and consumers are suffering from "popcorn lung" disease make clear that exposure to the chemical diacetyl in artificial flavoring is a serious health risk. It is shocking that the federal agencies charged with safeguarding American workers and consumers have failed to act, despite the growing evidence that this chemical is a serious threat. Prompt action is clearly needed to protect both workers and consumers from this harmful substance. I urge the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Food and Drug Administration to take immediate steps to do their job and protect the workforce and the public. If the Bush Administration won't act, then Congress must."

"I am deeply concerned that we are not doing enough to protect workers and consumers from the serious health risks posed by exposure to diacetyl." said Senator Patty Murray, Chair of the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Employment and Workplace Safety. "We can't continue to allow Americans to risk exposure to this deadly chemical with no safety standard, no protection, and little information from the federal agencies charged with protecting consumers and assuring a safe workplace."

The letters appear below. PDF's of the signed letters are available upon request.

September 7, 2007

Julie Louise Gerberding
Director
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Road, NE
Atlanta, GA 30333

Andrew von Eschenbach
Commissioner
Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane, Room 1555
Rockville, MD 20857

Dear Dr. Gerberding and Dr. von Eschenbach:

We write because we are concerned about the public health risks of diacetyl, the synthetic butter flavoring commonly used in microwavable popcorn and other foods. As recent reports have made clear, the chemical has been associated with bronchiolitis obliterans, often referred to as "popcorn lung," a lung disease that can cause serious breathing impairment and even death in severe cases.

We were already aware of the serious effects of diacetyl on workers in food manufacturing facilities, where exposure to it has been associated with abnormal lung function and can have swift and debilitating effects, with workers exposed to it becoming ill very quickly. Exposure may also result in a broader range of adverse health effects, such as asthma, pneumonia, granulomatous pneumonitis, tracheo- and bronchiomalacia, fibrosis and other symptoms that have been reported in workers exposed to it.

Recent studies have now brought to light potential risks to consumers and the public. Media reports this week revealed that a consumer repeatedly exposed by making microwavable popcorn at home has suffered symptoms similar to those of workers exposed to diacetyl. A case has also been reported of bronchiolitis obliterans in a popcorn plant employee's child exposed to diacetyl fumes at home where butter flavored oil was regularly used for frying foods.

The potential health effects are so serious that in recent weeks, manufacturers accounting for 80 percent of sales of microwavable popcorn have announced their intention to reformulate their products to eliminate the use of diacetyl.

Because of the wide use of products flavored with diacetyl and the potentially harmful health effects of exposure to the chemical, we urge you to examine immediately the risks of consumer exposure to diacetyl, and the safety of proposed substitutes for this flavoring. We respectfully request that you examine this matter and inform us within 90 days of the date of this letter of any actions your agencies have taken to investigate the potential public health effects of the use of diacetyl as an additive in food products, and any steps that can be taken to mitigate identified health risks associated with consumer exposure to diacetyl.

With respect and admiration, we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Edward M. Kennedy

Patty Murray

***

September 7, 2007

The Honorable Elaine L. Chao
Secretary
United States Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

The Honorable Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.
Assistant Secretary
United States Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Chao and Assistant Secretary Foulke:

We are writing to urge you to grant the pending petition for an Emergency Temporary Standard for manufacturing workers exposed to diacetyl used in microwave popcorn and flavoring manufacturing workers. Diacetyl, an artificial butter flavoring, has caused death and serious injury in many workers.

Numerous studies, including a recent study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, have established that diacetyl can cause a severe lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, in workers at food and flavor manufacturing facilities.

Dr. Kathleen Kreiss at the National Institute of Occupational Safety Health (which is responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related illness) has concluded that diacetyl poses a serious hazard to workers. Her work has also shown that controlling workers' exposure to diacetyl, such as by the use of personal protective equipment and improved engineering controls, is effective in preventing illness.

The potential danger of exposure to diacetyl clearly calls for a national standard to protect workers and provide guidelines for employers. We're concerned that OSHA's failure to act effectively has created confusion in the industry and delayed effective help for workers. OSHA's National Emphasis Program is an inadequate response to the threats posed by diacetyl. Its scope is insufficient and such a limited program cannot substitute for a standard. More workers will become ill and possibly die as long as the National Emphasis Program remains in place. An emergency temporary standard is needed to protect the lives and health of the workers who need such protection the most.

Recent reports that diacetyl also causes harm to consumers confirm the hazards to workers and the need for strong protections. Although some manufacturers have pledged to cease using diacetyl, only an OSHA standard can ensure that all workers are protected. It is time for prompt decisive action. These hardworking Americans deserve no less.

With respect and appreciation,

Edward M. Kennedy

Patty Murray


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