Research/studies Worker health and wellness

Chemical linked to ‘popcorn lung’ found in flavored e-cigarettes: study

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Boston – A flavoring chemical linked to severe respiratory disease in food manufacturing workers has been found in some flavored electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, according to research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

For the study, a lab device “inhaled” air through e-cigarettes for eight seconds before resting for 15 to 30 seconds. Researchers found the flavoring chemical diacetyl in more than 75 percent of the 51 flavored e-cigarettes and refill liquids tested. Inhalation of diacetyl has been linked to the respiratory disease bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as “popcorn lung,” which was first detected more than 10 years ago in some workers who breathed in artificial butter flavor from microwave popcorn.

The researchers also checked for the compounds acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione, which are used as substitutes to diacetyl and may present a respiratory hazard to workers, according to the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association.

One or more of the three chemicals was found in all but four flavors. Researchers discovered acetoin in 46 flavors, diacetyl in 39 flavors and 2,3-pentanedione in 23 flavors. E-cigarette flavors studied included “Cotton Candy,” “Fruit Squirts” and “Cupcake.”

E-cigarettes are unregulated and their full health effects are unknown, although the Food and Drug Administration has proposed including them under its regulatory authority.

The study was published online Dec. 8 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.