If you’re one of the millions of people around the world who love the smell of buttery popcorn, then you owe a great deal of thanks to an unnamed Colorado man who learned a very hard lesson on your behalf.
Around 2007, the man went to his doctor complaining of breathing difficulties. Tests revealed extensive lung damage of a kind typically exhibited by workers in industrial or agricultural facilities. The man’s ailment was initially a mystery, and a variety of theories were put forth and discarded until finally the culprit was identified.
This man liked microwave popcorn. He liked it a lot. The man confessed to the doctors that he’d eaten at least two bags a day for at least a decade. The Colorado man said of himself, “I am Mr. Popcorn. I love popcorn.” Unsurprisingly, he was overweight.
Lest any popcorn-chawing members of the Cadre Promethean worry, it wasn’t the eating of microwave popcorn that proved to be Mr. Popcorn’s nemesis. No, he loved the rich buttery smell of the sweet, sweet maize so much that he would put his face into the bag like a horse with its feed and inhale deeply before eating.
At the time, most brands of microwave popcorn contained diacetyl, a chemical which adds extra yumminess to the buttery flavor. However, diacetyl is toxic when inhaled, leading to diacetyl-induced bronchiolitis obliterans, known more simply by the much-cooler term “Popcorn Worker’s Lung.” Mr. Popcorn had managed to contract a disease heretofore only known in the popcorn industry.
It is difficult to imagine what Mr. Popcorn must be going through. But according to one of the physicians who worked with him, Dr. Cecile Rose, his debilitating condition was the furthest thing from his mind. As always, he was focused on the hot, buttery goodness of exploded corn kernels. Said Dr. Rose, “He was really upset that he couldn’t have it anymore.”