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Diacetyl Workplace Exposure Concerns

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Published on Apr 27, 2016

In early 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published the science blog, Coffee Workers at Risk for Lung Disease. It discusses diacetyl and a diacetyl substitute (2,3-pentanedione) which are both volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are produced naturally and commercially.

According to the NIOSH science blog, diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione are produced as ingredients in flavorings that are added to some food products (e.g., microwave popcorn, bakery mixes, flavored coffee). However, they are both also naturally produced when coffee beans are roasted. Grinding roasted coffee beans produces greater surface area for the off-gassing of these and other chemicals. Coffee roasting facilities package newly roasted coffee in bags fitted with one-way valves or in permeable bags to allow for off-gassing. Alternatively, newly roasted coffee is placed in containers and allowed to off-gas, which can contribute to worker exposures. The blog goes on to discuss five workers from a coffee processing facility who were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, a form of lung disease.

In recent years, the health effects associated with worker exposure to diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl (FFCD) has come under increasing scrutiny. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports the following: A number of employees exposed to FFCD have developed serious respiratory illness presenting with persistent dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath upon exertion, and fixed airways obstruction on spirometry. Several employees have been diagnosed with asthma or bronchiolitis obliterans. Bronchiolitis obliterans occurs when small airways become inflamed and scarred, resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. The symptoms and airways obstruction range from mild to severe, and do not improve when the employee goes home or on vacation. Because bronchiolitis obliterans is a rare disease, some employees may have been potentially misdiagnosed with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and/or pneumonia. The loss of pulmonary function associated with severe bronchiolitis obliterans is permanent and some patients have been placed on lung transplant waiting lists.

While more research is needed, NIOSH recommends the following to reduce hazardous exposure associated with the use or manufacture of flavorings:
1. Substitution of Materials
2. Engineering Controls
3. Administrative Controls
4. Education
5. Personal Protective Equipment
6. Exposure and Worker Health Monitoring

These are just a few things to know about exposure concerns to diacetyl and food flavorings containing diacetyl. To learn more about this or other occupational, environmental, health, safety and air quality issues, please visit the websites shown below.

Clark Seif Clark http://www.csceng.com
EMSL Analytical, Inc. http://www.emsl.com
LA Testing http://www.latesting.com
Zimmetry Environmental http://www.zimmetry.com
Healthy Indoors Magazine http://www.iaq.net
Hudson Douglas Public Adjusters http://HudsonDouglasPublicAdjusters.com
VOETS - Verification, Operations and Environmental Testing Services http://www.voets.nyc

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