Coffee production workers claim lung disease from flavoring chemical

Michelle Keahey, East Texas Bureau May 21, 2012, 4:36pm

TYLER - Several coffee production plant workers have filed a lawsuit claiming that they are suffering from lung disease as a result of exposure to a chemical in coffee flavoring.

Emanuel Diaz de Leon, Ignacio Garcia, Julysabel Cerda, Silvia Guzman and Jose Anaya filed suit against Flavor & Fragrance Specialties Inc., Firmenich Inc., Carmi Flavor and Fragrance Co. Inc. and Mission Flavors & Fragrances Inc. on April 10 in Smith County District Court. The defendants removed the case to the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division on May 15.

The plaintiffs worked in the flavor room of a coffee production facility known as Distant Lands Coffee in Tyler.

According to the lawsuit, some of these flavoring agents used in the coffee flavoring room contained a chemical component known as diacetyl.

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, diacetyl (also called butanedione or 2,3-butanedione, molecular formula C4H6O2) is a natural byproduct of fermentation and is also synthesized by chemical manufacturers.

Diacetyl gives butter and certain food flavorings a distinctive buttery flavor and aroma. Food flavorings containing diacetyl are used in microwave popcorn and other snack foods, pet foods, candies, baked goods and other food products.

OSHA has suggested diacetyl, when used in artificial butter flavoring, may be hazardous when heated and inhaled over a long period.

Diacetyl gained attention when several workers in the popcorn processing industry were diagnosed with a rare type of lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans, also called "popcorn workers' lung."

In the coffee workers lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim this chemical has caused their lung disease.

The defendants are accused of failing to disclosure or otherwise give adequate warnings about the dangerous of diacetyl or to give adequate instructions for avoiding such dangers.

The plaintiffs claim they have sustained lung or pulmonary injuries as a result of their exposure to diacetyl.

The workers are asking the court for an award of damages for physical pain, mental anguish, loss of earnings or earning capacity, physical impairment, medical expenses, interest and court costs.

The plaintiffs are represented by Randell C. Roberts of Roberts & Roberts in Tyler.

U.S. District Judge Leonard E. Davis is assigned to the case.

Case No. 6:12-cv-00327

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