Do you love the smell of roasting coffee beans? What about microwave popcorn or e-cigarettes?
The same chemical in butter flavoring and e-cigarettes is also released naturally during coffee roasting and grinding.
The chemical is diacetyl and it has been linked to an irreversible lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. It scars tiny air sacs in the lungs and obstructs breathing. The symptoms do not improve and the loss of lung function is permanent. It is easily misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and/or pneumonia.
The disease was nicknamed “Popcorn Lung” after hundreds of popcorn workers developed the same symptoms:
- Persistent dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Fixed airway obstruction
Diacetyl is a small part of the incredibly rich aroma we enjoy in a strong cup of coffee. The average coffee drinker need not worry. But for people working long hours in places where coffee is roasted and ground, precautions may be a good idea.
The problem came to light in 2012 when five workers at a coffee roaster in Texas were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans. The company flavored their coffee with artificial flavoring containing diacetyl.
Investigators discovered high levels of diacetyl in the air where unflavored coffee was handled — especially where freshly-roasted coffee was stored before packaging, and in grinding areas. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently investigating diacetyl levels in about a dozen coffee roasters.