An air sampling conducted this year by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found that coffee roasters’ health are at risk due to being exposed to high levels of diacetyl.
The tests were conducted at several roasteries revealed that diacetyl levels from unflavored roasted coffee exceeded safety standards defined by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Five workers in a coffee roasting plant in Tyler who contracted debilitating lung illnesses linked to the chemical prompted the testing. The workers believed their conditions were caused by being exposed to diacetyl in the liquid they added to the beans to make hazelnut-flavored coffee. They filed a lawsuit against the company in 2012 and settled it in October.
Diacetyl is an organic compound with an intense buttery flavor. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggested that when used in artificial butter flavoring, may be dangerous when heated or inhaled over a long period.
A U.S OSHA Safety and Health Information Bulletin and Worker Alert recommended businesses utilize safety measures to prevent employees from being exposed to the effects of butter flavorings and other flavoring substances containing diacetyl or its substitutes.
“It’s prudent to be concerned,” said Kay Kreiss, a scientist with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. “We know there is a potential problem in other coffee plants.
“This merits attention because of the seriousness of the irreversible lung disease.”
NIOSH released a warning to workers in coffee processing facilities in September saying that workers with obliterative bronchiolitis can sometimes be initially misdiagnosed with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema or pneumonia.