andrew schneider investigates

February 22, 2008

New study affirms diacetyl’s harm

Public health investigators trying to determine the risk to workers and consumers exposed to vapors from the chemical butter flavoring diacetyl have some new information with which to work. Scientists from the National Institute of Environmental Health and Duke University have published the results of an elaborate study which exposed lab animals to diacetyl for various times and at different concentrations.

The 47-page Diacetyl study, which is to be published in the Journal of the Society of Toxicology, was led by Dr, Daniel Morgan of the National Toxicology Program and colleagues from NIEH and Duke. The study also examined acetoin, another chemical group found in flavoring.

The study confirms and further details what physicians and other occupational medicine specialists who have diagnosed and treated workers with the lung-destroying disease believed to be the case: Low levels of diacetyl can damage lung tissue. Morgan’s study details extensive damage done to the mice. That fact that humans breathe more through their mouth than the lab animals indicated to some who have read the report that the harm of low-dose exposure to humans can be even more severe.

At LabCor, a Seattle analytical laboratory, analyst Eryn Knaack heats cooking oils and butter substitutes to see how much diacetyl is release. Photo by Andrew Schneider

Some of the exposures to which the animals were exposed and caused harm, were similar the levels of diacetyl vapors that laboratory testing commissioned by the Seattle P-I measured when cooking oils and butter substitutes used by professional cooks were heated.

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