The Man Who Won a Lawsuit Over Inhaling the Smell of Artificial Butter

In 2012, Wayne Watson, 59, began noticing that during choir practice at church he couldn’t sustain notes like he used to. It got to the point where he made a doctor’s appointment to find out what was going on. To Watson’s surprise, his doctor said that she wasn’t sure what was causing his ailment, but she knew he had to be inhaling something. When she asked Watson if he had been eating a lot of popcorn, his jaw dropped. It turns out that Watson had been eating 2 bags of popcorn daily for 10 years and now had what’s known as “popcorn lung.” Popcorn lung is a potentially fatal respiratory disease that mostly develops in workers at flavoring plants who inhale diacetyl, the chemical that provides the butter flavoring and smell. In most cases, the smallest airways of the lung become scarred and constricted, blocking off movement of air. Symptoms of popcorn lung include coughing, wheezing, and worsening shortness of breath on exertion, and is often misdiagnosed as asthma, chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. Watson sued Glister-Mary Lee Corp., the manufacturer of the popcorn, along with King Soopers’ supermarket, Dillon Foods, and Kroger, where he had purchased the popcorn. Surprisingly, jurors awarded Watson $7 million in damages.