Learn how to protect yourself from this harmful disease and how to file a claim if you’ve been affected
Popcorn lung, also known as bronchiolitis obliterans, is a severe lung disease caused by the inhalation of certain harmful chemicals in the workplace. This debilitating condition can have life-altering consequences for workers who are exposed to these hazardous substances.
In this article, we will explore the risks associated with popcorn lung in different factory settings and the legal options available to affected workers seeking compensation for their injuries.
What is popcorn lung?
Popcorn lung, medically known as bronchiolitis obliterans, is a serious and irreversible lung disease. It was nicknamed “popcorn lung” in 2002, when the condition was first identified among a group of workers at a microwave popcorn facility in Missouri who were exposed to high levels of a chemical called diacetyl, which was being used to give popcorn a buttery taste.
Inhalation of diacetyl and other toxic chemicals can cause inflammation and scarring of the small airways in the lungs, called bronchioles, leading to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and reduced lung function.
Diacetyl is also used in products such as snack foods, roasted coffee, fruit drinks, dairy products, caramel, vaping pens and e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes), among others.
Which other substances are associated with popcorn lung?
Along with diacetyl, there are several other substances that can cause popcorn lung. They include:
- Sulfur dioxide
- Hydrochloric acid
- Nitrogen oxides
- Metal oxide fumes
- Sulfur mustard/mustard gas
Which workers are at risk for chemical exposure to diacetyl on the job?
Certain workers are at a higher risk of contracting popcorn lung due to their exposure to diacetyl and other toxic chemicals. This may include workers at facilities that produce any of the following:
- Microwave popcorn and other snacks
- Roasted coffee
- Baked goods
- Dairy products
- Wine, beer and other spirits
- Citrus juices
- Processed tomato items
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What are the symptoms of popcorn lung?
Some of the most common symptoms of popcorn lung include:
- Skin rash
- Night sweats
- Coughing with occasional mucus that worsens during and after exercise
- Shortness of breath/trouble breathing, also called dyspnea, particularly during and after exercise
How long after exposure do workers typically develop symptoms of popcorn lung?
Symptoms of popcorn lung can begin to manifest as soon as 2 weeks after exposure to the toxic chemicals that cause the condition, but some workers may not experience symptoms for several years. Once the symptoms start, they usually occur regularly rather than in occasional episodes.
How is popcorn lung treated, and can the symptoms be reversed?
Popcorn lung is a chronic condition for which there is currently no cure. Treatment may include the following:
- Corticosteroids (to reduce inflammation)
- Bronchodilators (to open airways)
- Immunosuppressants (to limit your body’s immune response)
- Oxygen supplementation
In some cases, a lung transplant may be needed if other treatment options aren’t successful. If left untreated, popcorn lung will get progressively worse and can eventually lead to death.
In the news: Jury awards Wisconsin man $5.3 Million in popcorn lung case
After working part-time at a Hayward, Wisconsin, coffee roasting boutique for about 7 years, Nick Moncel began experiencing shortness of breath and extreme exhaustion during even minimal physical activities. He sought medical care, and his doctor determined his symptoms were related to the chemicals found at his workplace.
Following a week-long trial, a jury in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court awarded Moncel $5.3 million after his attorney presented evidence that the company that had employed Moncel and its affiliates failed to warn Moncel and other workers of the dangers of the chemicals produced by the roasting process, even though they were all aware of the risks of permanent lung damage.
Are workers who develop popcorn lung eligible for workers’ comp benefits in Georgia?
Under Georgia law, most employers with 3 or more employees (including part-time) are required to provide their workers with workers’ comp insurance to cover work-related illnesses or injuries. This means that most factory workers who develop popcorn lung are eligible to receive workers’ comp benefits.
What workers’ comp benefits are available to injured workers?
Workers who suffer injuries or illnesses because of their jobs may be entitled to the following benefits:
- Income benefits. Workers can receive two-thirds of their average weekly pay prior to their injury/illness if it prevents them from working.
- Medical benefits. Workers are entitled to 100% coverage of all medical care and healthcare-related needs, including prescription medications, hospital and doctor visits, physical therapy, surgeries, treatments and all other medical expenses.
- Death benefits. Certain dependents, such as the spouse and minor children of a worker who dies from a work-related injury or illness, are entitled to compensation for funeral expenses and lost income.
What steps do workers need to take to file a workers’ comp claim in Georgia?
Take the following steps after a work injury or illness in Georgia to remain eligible for compensation:
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible to prevent your injury or illness from worsening and to obtain documentation linking it to your job. Be sure to follow all doctor’s orders to ensure you remain eligible for compensation.
- Notify your employer of the injury or illness within 30 days of the accident or discovery of the illness.
- File a WC-14 Notice of Claim form with the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.
- Contact an experienced workers’ compensation attorney for help if your claim is denied.
How can a workers’ comp attorney help with a popcorn lung claim?
A workers’ compensation attorney can provide crucial assistance with a popcorn lung claim by doing the following:
- Evaluate your claim. An attorney will review the details of your case, including the extent of your exposure to diacetyl and the impact of popcorn lung on your ability to work and your quality of life. They will assess the viability of the claim and determine the potential for compensation.
- Gather evidence. An attorney will gather evidence to support your claim, including medical records, expert opinions, workplace documentation and testimonies from witnesses. This evidence will help establish the link between your occupational exposure to diacetyl and the development of popcorn lung.
- Negotiate with insurers. An attorney will engage in negotiations with the workers’ compensation insurance company to secure a fair settlement. They will use their legal expertise to navigate the complex legal processes, ensuring that your rights and best interests are protected.
- Represent you in legal proceedings. If your claim is disputed or the insurance company denies compensation, an attorney will represent you in legal proceedings. They will prepare and present a compelling case, utilizing their knowledge of workers’ compensation laws and regulations to advocate for your rights in court.
By partnering with a workers’ compensation attorney experienced in popcorn lung workers’ comp claims, you can more easily navigate the complex legal landscape and maximize your chances of obtaining the compensation you deserve.
Contact an Atlanta work injury attorney for help with your claim
Popcorn lung can result in serious health consequences that may even make it impossible to work. Because of the necessity for ongoing medical treatment, it’s crucial that you get advice from an experienced work injury attorney who can estimate the value of your claim and help you get maximum compensation.
If you live in Georgia and have developed popcorn lung after being exposed to chemicals like diacetyl at work, contact the experienced Atlanta worker injury attorneys at Gerber & Holder Workers’ Compensation Attorneys today.
Our attorneys have over 75 years of combined experience helping injured workers across Georgia recover maximum compensation after an injury. We’re here for you and ready to fight for the compensation you deserve.
Contact us for a free consultation.