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I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! Diacetyl-Flavored Popcorn Makes Headlines
52 year old furniture salesman and nonsmoker Wayne Watkins suddenly found himself getting short of breath while golfing and singing in the choir. From his symptoms, doctors at Denver's National Jewish Medical & Research Center deduced that Watson had indulged excessively in an entirely different behavior that over time had reduced his lung capacity by 50%: eating microwave popcorn. Mr. Watson admitted to eating 2-3 bags of microwave popcorn a day for years, making a point of inhaling the fumes that come from the steamy bag of popcorn when it is first opened. His condition, bronchiolitis obliterans, is also known among food workers as "popcorn lung," and strikes food manufacturing employees who work around popcorn. The illness is caused by diacetyl, the chemical companies add to popcorn to make it taste buttery. Orville Redenbacher, Act II, Pop Secret and Jolly Time all use it. Jiffy Pop, which gets popped on the stovetop, doesn't. Popcorn workers' plight aside, just one day after the story about Wayne Watson's condition was printed in the Denver Post, all four of the above companies agreed to immediately remove the chemical from their popcorn.