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Exposures to Flavoring Chemicals during Coffee Grinding and Packaging
In 2012, NIOSH conducted a health hazard evaluation in a coffee processing plant in Texas where five cases of the lung disease obliterative bronchiolitis had been diagnosed in former workers. Obliterative bronchiolitis is an irreversible disease resulting in obstruction of airways in the lungs and was previously identified in workers in the flavoring manufacturing and microwave popcorn industries. The disease has been linked to exposure to the flavoring chemicals diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione, volatile organic compounds that are naturally produced and released when coffee beans are roasted and when coffee is ground.
In a new paper published in the October issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, NIOSH researchers characterize workers’ exposures following changes made at the Texas facility including the substitution of diacetyl in some flavorings with 2,3-pentanedione and the addition of local exhaust ventilation in the flavoring room. Select results from the JOEH study appear below.
From “Environmental Characterization of a Coffee Processing Workplace with Obliterative Bronchiolitis in Former Workers”: “Although the company had requested that its flavoring suppliers eliminate diacetyl from the flavorings, our analyses of headspace samples from bulk samples showed that they continued to contain some diacetyl, as well as other alpha-diketones that are being used as diacetyl substitutes. Headspace analysis showed that for three of the flavorings tested, 2,3-pentanedione concentrations were one to two orders higher than diacetyl.”
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Editor's Note: Fumes vs. Vapors
 
The original wording from the Center for Public Integrity's report "Common Solvent Keeps Killing Workers, Consumers" mistakenly refers to "fumes" in a context where "vapors" is the correct term. The Synergist has corrected this error in the digital edition.
 
Unfortunately, the error found its way into the print version of the November issue. The Synergist regrets the error and will publish a correction in the December issue.
 
Ed Rutkowski, editor