NIOSH investigators recently published an article in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine about a health hazard evaluation at a coffee processing facility that roasted, ground, and flavored coffee. A severe lung disease called obliterative bronchiolitis occurred in five workers.
Sometimes workers with obliterative bronchiolitis are initially misdiagnosed with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or pneumonia; or their symptoms are attributed to smoking. It is important to consider the possibility of flavoring chemical-related lung disease in workers who have been exposed to diacetyl or similar flavoring chemicals (such as 2,3-pentanedione) and have respiratory symptoms.
In cases of flavoring chemical-related lung disease, respiratory symptoms do not typically improve when the worker goes home at the end of the workday, on weekends, or on vacations. The symptoms often have a gradual onset but can occur suddenly.
Two of the cases were summarized in a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (MMWR 62(16):304-307).
NIOSH is working with a number of coffee processing facilities through the HHE Program.
NIOSH HHE investigators have developed a coffee processing webpage with interim recommendations.