Popcorn Lung Costs Manufacturer Dearly
September 20, 2012

Colorado Man Earns Millions By Eating Popcorn

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Wayne Watson, a Centennial, Colorado man, has just earned himself a tidy $7.2 million paycheck the old fashioned way: Eating 2 bags of microwave popcorn every day, making sure to deeply inhale the aroma from the bag immediately after it was cooked.

Diagnosed with something called “popcorn lung,” Watson took the makers of the popcorn, as well as the local grocers who sold it to him, to court, claiming the chemicals used in the artificial butter made it difficult for him to breathe.

Watson was first diagnosed with “popcorn lung,” better known as bronchiolitis obliterans at Denver´s National Jewish Health in 2007 after years of breathing in the steam from popcorn bags, according to his lawyer Kenneth McClain.

The culprit in this case is a chemical named diacetyl, which was once used in the artificial butter for the popcorn. Diacetyl has been at the center of other suits from workers in these popcorn manufacturing plants, and since it has been linked to health problems, has since been removed. Mr. Watson, however, claims Gilster Mary-Lee, the manufacturer of the popcorn, didn´t take steps to warn consumers about the dangers of deeply inhaling multiple popcorn bags a day, a misstep he says makes the company liable for 80% of the $7,217,961 in damages. Watson also brought his suit to the retail grocers who sold him the popcorn, making them liable for 20% of the total damages.

“It´s kind of a weird story isn´t it? A guy gets sick by breathing in the toxic fumes of diacetyl that is on butter-flavored microwave popcorn in the sanctity of his own kitchen,” said Watson in an interview with local CBS Denver.

“Who would ever reasonably think that popping popcorn in your own home, no matter how it´s packaged or processed, would all of a sudden turn into an agent for toxic lung disease?”

Lawyers for the defendants in the case, however, claimed Watson didn´t catch his case of bronchiolitis obliterans from microwave popcorn, but from his years of breathing in dangerous chemicals as a carpet cleaner. The jury, however, found in favor of Watson, earning him a massive payout in damages. McClain argued that Mary-Lee should have taken extra steps to ensure the customer´s safety whenever employees began to get sick from the chemical.

“That link gave them knowledge of consumers because in their own plant workers popping popcorn in the quality assurance area were getting sick,” said McClain, also speaking in an interview with CBS Denver.

Watson agreed, saying: “They did absolutely no testing whatsoever that the consumer might be at risk. The only experiment they did was go sell the product and see what happens. They rolled the dice and lost.”

Gilster Mary-Lee has already said they plan to appeal the verdict in this case, saying in a statement: “Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. has manufactured and provided safe, quality microwave popcorn to consumers for over two decades. We are certainly very disappointed by the decision of the jury in this case in light of the very clear evidence which was presented, including the millions of consumers who have safely used and enjoyed microwave popcorn since it was introduced. We are currently evaluating our next steps in this matter and will assert all rights available to us under the law.”

As for Watson, he says this case has left a bad taste in his mouth for popcorn, and hasn´t touched the stuff since 2007.

“Occasionally we´ll pop some on the stove the old fashioned way.”