Workplace exposures Food Manufacturing

Coffee processing workers may be at risk for ‘popcorn lung,’ NIOSH says

Coffee processing

Photo: RyanJLane/iStockphoto

Washington – Workers at coffee processing facilities may be at risk for the respiratory condition known as “popcorn lung,” according to NIOSH.

“Popcorn lung” is a term used to describe bronchiolitis obliterans, an irreversible type of lung disease in which a person’s airways become scarred and constricted. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, and more serious problems may result.

The new findings add to a growing number of at-risk audiences, including workers at flavoring and microwave popcorn manufacturing plants and, more recently, electronic cigarette users. The common culprit is the chemical diacetyl or its substitute, 2,3-pentanedione, both of which may be dangerous if inhaled.

In a Jan. 25 blog post, NIOSH researchers wrote that coffee workers also could be exposed to the chemicals by flavoring, grinding, packaging or storing roasted coffee beans. NIOSH cited at least five workers at a coffee processing facility who suffered from the condition. Subsequent research showed elevated levels of diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione in the air.

NIOSH said it is conducting health hazard evaluations at multiple coffee processing facilities. The agency also has developed a webpage that includes interim recommendations to help keep coffee processing workers safe. NIOSH recommends conducting air sampling during specific tasks such as roasting, grinding and packaging to determine exposure sources and develop intervention strategies such as engineering controls or ventilation changes.

“Employees may need to wear appropriate fit-tested respirators until these workplace interventions have been put into place and shown to reduce air concentrations in follow-up air sampling,” researchers wrote in the blog. “Additionally, a medical surveillance program that includes health questionnaires and breathing tests (e.g., spirometry) may be indicated to screen for respiratory symptoms or abnormalities in employees.”

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