In this article, Industrial Hygienist, Ronald Schaible, CIH, CSP, provides an introduction to diacetyl hazards as they relate to coffee and e-cigarettes. His discussion includes an explanation of the hazards as well as industry safety practices for protecting workers.
Diacetyl Hazards in Coffee And E-Cigarettes?
Diacetyl (also known as 2,3-Butanedione) is one of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) used as ingredients in flavorings. Flavorings are complex mixtures of natural and manmade ingredients that are added to many food products in the production process. Prior to 2000, there was no reported inhalation hazard data for diacetyl. Attention was drawn to the potential hazards of flavorings when there were occurrences of respiratory illness/injury observed in the microwave popcorn industry, particularly in slurry/flavoring rooms where temperatures above ambient are common, and in packaging lines where the slurry is pumped into the bags of popcorn. More recently, similar worker health concerns have been expressed about exposure to flavorings used in processing coffee beans and in e-cigarette products.
In the processing of coffee beans, diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione are naturally produced and released during the roasting, grinding, flavoring and packaging processes. Grinding roasted coffee beans produces greater surface area for the off-gassing of these and other chemicals. Recent information from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shows there may be concern even for unflavored coffee processing facilities.
Currently there are reportedly more than 7,000 e-cigarette flavorings being marketed. Diacetyl is one chemical that has been present in chemical analyses of these flavors at levels that exceed the laboratory limit of detection. The chemicals are subject to inhalation and ingestion into the body.
HAZARDS ASSOCIATED WITH DIACETYL
Diacetyl, along with other VOCs such as 2,3-pentanedione and other alpha-diketones, have been associated with bronchiolitis obliterans (a/k/a severe fixed obstructive lung disease, or “Popcorn Lung”) which is an irreversible lung disease. Exposed manufacturing workers may experience restrictive breathing anomalies or decreased lung function. The likelihood of exposure increases in high-volume roasting facilities with poor infrastructure. Exposure may not be limited to manufacturing environments. It is currently uncertain if a consumer hazard exists with respect to microwave popcorn consumption or home roasting of coffee.
Best practices have been established to eliminate or minimize potential exposure to flavorings in manufacturing processes. These practices include engineering controls, improved work practices, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and exposure monitoring. One potential engineering control is substitution of diacetyl with other substances, although the safety of those substitutes should be demonstrated by toxicology studies. Another engineering control is to use closed systems wherever practical to prevent the release of contaminants in the work environment. Local exhaust ventilation can be used at process locations where gases and vapors are or may likely be released. If exposure monitoring indicates the potential for exposure above accepted Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs), then proper respiratory protection should be implemented until satisfactory exposure levels are achieved. Worker training in accordance with OSHA’s hazard communication standard (29 CFR 1910.1200) is also required. This training should use suppliers’ Safety Data Sheets (SDS) and product labels and warnings to convey the proper safety messages. SDS are used as a training and reference tool for workers, and health, safety, and environmental professionals. SDS cannot include information on every unique application of the material, although they should consider the hazardous exposures resulting from customary and reasonably foreseeable use, misuse, handling, and storage. Manufacturers of flavorings should ensure that their SDS and warnings convey proper hazard information in accordance with prevailing industry consensus standards.
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Industrial Hygienist, Workplace Safety & Ergonomics Expert
Ron is certified in the Comprehensive Practice of Industrial Hygiene (CIH), a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and a Certified Professional Ergonomist with diverse career experience. He has over 40 years of experience in commercial insurance loss control, private industry, and consulting. He has been responsible for global health and safety for a major electrical/ electronics industry manufacturer.
The scope of his professional experience includes all aspects of workplace safety such as machine guarding, suitability of personal protective equipment (PPE), ergonomic interventions, evaluating industrial hygiene exposures, product stewardship (preparation of Material
Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and product labels and warnings), ergonomic & material handling hazards, exposures to hazardous chemicals and physical agents, safety training & instruction, OSHA and EPA regulations & related standards of care, workers compensation subrogation, and procedures for the proper handling and disposal of hazardous wastes.
Ron is a graduate of Drexel University, and West Chester University where he holds a M.S. in Environmental Health. He is a member of numerous professional organizations such as the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH).