CDC Finds Dangerous Levels of Diacetyl in Coffee Operations

Researchers show former coffee workers develop lung disease from diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione

Protecting coffee workers is becoming an increasing concern for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other organizations dedicated to the health and safety of workers in the United States. As the coffee industry booms, so does the concern for workers exposure to diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. Concerns began after more than a dozen workers at a Texas coffee roasting plant were said to have developed fatal lung disease, bronchiolitis obliterans.

Doctors and scientists from the CDC traveled across the country for two years researching workers’ exposure to the chemical. Preliminary findings indicate a widespread problem that jeopardizes the health of coffee workers from exposure to the dangerous chemicals. In several facilities, worker exposure was more than four to five times the recommended level of diacetyl.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the division of the CDC studying coffee facilities, recommends an exposure limit to diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione of 5 parts per billion (ppb). This number is a time-weighted average over an 8-hour workday and 40-hour workweek. Additionally, NIOSH recommends an exposure limit to 2,3-pentanedione of 9.3 ppb.

Between 2017 through 2018, reports for NIOSH levels of exposure exceeded the federal recommendation in 10 of the 11 facilities.

As part of the study, doctors and scientists assessed various ways coffee plants expose workers to the chemicals—mostly through the air. Additionally, they conducted breathing and other medical tests on workers exposed to the chemicals. Employees tested worked in environments from small cafes with lone roasting ovens to large-scale processors with more than 150 workers.

The CDC reports that dozens of coffee workers have abnormal breathing tests and respiratory illnesses—more than twice the rate found in the general population.

How Can Companies Protect Employees

Even large, airy spaces with little odor have elevated levels of diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione. Therefore, NIOSH suggests coffee companies of all sizes get their air tested by an industrial hygienist. Companies should ensure workplaces have good ventilation. This doesn’t mean simply opening doors and installing fans—this essentially just circulates fumes. Local exhaust systems in areas where coffee grinding and packaging occurs are critical to preventing employee exposure to dangerous chemicals.

In addition, companies should implement medical surveillance programs to monitor employees’ lung functioning.

Because coffee beans release fumes and gases in storage containers when workers remove lids they risk exposure to extremely high levels of chemicals. They should take special care to keep their faces away from containers.

The Carlson Law Firm Can Help

An unfortunate reality is that bronchiolitis obliterans is frequently misdiagnosed as asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and emphysema. However, if you have worked around coffee (roasting or grinding), snack food plants, dairy plants, confection plants, pet food plants and refrigerated dough plants you may need a second opinion. Bronchiolitis obliterans is often difficult to diagnose. If you or a loved one is suffering from the disease, contact The Carlson Law Firm. We have a Bronchiolitis Obliterans attorney that can help you recover compensation for your injuries.

Previous lawsuits filed by factory workers have resulted in several multi-million dollar jury awards against a manufacturer. Manufacturers have a responsibility to warn and protect its employees from diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione exposure.

To find out if a bronchiolitis obliterans lawsuit is right for you or loved one, call our firm today.

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