On Highway 71 in Missouri there used to be a factory that produced microwavable popcorn.
The factory used a flavor called Diacetyl to produce its popcorn. According to one of its employees, Eric Peoples, it did so at three times the usual levels.
In the late 1990?s, workers at the factory, including Eric Peoples, began to get ill. Initially they thought it was just a cold or asthma, but then one worker after another was diagnosed with a rare disease called bronchiolitis obliterans which is now commonly known as popcorn lung.
Although the exact cause was debated, many scientists believe that popcorn lung is caused by diacetyl, an ingredient used in popcorn to produce that buttery flavor we love in popcorn.
The effects can be devestating. At the young age of 27 , Eric Peoples, was told he had just 18% of his lung capacity.
Even worse, he would need a double lung transplant within the next ten years.
He and his wife were awarded a massive 20 million dollar payout – although that in itself lead to another tragic outcome, which we’ll come to later in the blog post!
What is Diacetyl?
You probably consume Diacetyl every day.
It occurs naturally in foods like butter, vinegar and honey and occurs via fermentation in drinks and foods like cheese and beer .
This yellow-green liquid also carries an intense buttery flavor, is also a commonly used food flavoring. It is recognised by the FDA as being generally safe.
Unfortunately, according to Eric People’s testimony, levels of Diacetyl used in the popcorn factory were at three times normal levels.
Diacetyl in Cigarette Smoke
It’s the diacetyl in popcorn which is responsible for that buttery flavor.
In 2014 small levels of Diacetyl (estimated at around 0.05% of contents) was found in one e-liquid during internal testing procedures.
While the flavor was removed from sale, the news hit the headlines.
We already know that Diacetyl is present in cigarette smoke.
And, according to research, by Dr Farsalinos, it is also present in many sweet flavored e-liquids found in Europe.
However, it has rarely been found in tests of UK e-liquid, and when it has been found the e-liquid has been removed from sale.
Crucially, when it HAS been found in E-liquid, the quantities have been, on average, between 100 times lower than those found in cigarette smoke. (Another, similar chemical, acetyl propionyl, was discovered in those e-liquids at levels 10 times lower than in cigarette smoke.)
Do you need to worry?
There’s several reasons why the concern over Diacetyl in e-liquid have been overblown.
1. As mentioned Diacetyl and acetyl propionyl in cigarettes is between 10-100 times higher than in e-liquid.
2. Cigarette smoke does not cause popcorn lung (although it is a cause of many other diseases).
3. Reputable UK suppliers test for Diacetyl, and withdraw from sale any e-liquids that contain Diacetyl.
Despite the apparent low risk of Diacetyl, both ECigaretteDirect and ECITA take careful measures to prevent Diacetyl from being present in ecigarettes.
ECITA requires members to independently test their e-liquid for impurities, and also commissions tests itself.
If an impurity is found, the company has to withdraw that e-liquid for sale, and if it wishes to sell the flavor again it has to reformulate the e-liquid.
ECITA tests founds low levels of Diacetyl in one flavor, which was then withdrawn from sale.
At ECigaretteDirect, we are also introducing in-house GCMS testing which will allow us to test every batch of e-liquid, in-house, for impurities.
The popcorn plant in Mc Bride, Missouri.
As for Eric and his wife, the millions of dollars he was awarded did not lead to a happy life.
In 2012 he and his wife sued for bankruptcy, after having spent millions of dollars building a mansion.