$30 Million Awarded to "Popcorn Lung" Sufferer

Factory worker exposed to controversial chemical

By Matt Bartosik
|  Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010  |  Updated 7:00 AM CDT
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Last month, a South Elgin factory worker was awarded $30.4 million when a jury found a chemical company responsible for his "popcorn lung."

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Many people love the smell of fresh, buttery popcorn. But inhaling that aroma day in and day out for several years may have caused significant lung damage for one Illinois plant worker.

Last month, Gerardo Solis, 45, was awarded $30.4 million when a jury found BASF, a chemical company, responsible for Solis' "popcorn lung."

The disease, known medically as bronchiolitis obliterans, is an irreversible life-threatening obstructive lung disease and has damaged 75 percent of the South Elgin man's lungs, according to the lawsuit. Solis has difficulty breathing and is awaiting a lung transplant, said his lawyer, Ken McClain, according to the Sun-Times.

McClain argued that Solis got the disease as a result of working over 20 years in popcorn and popcorn-flavoring plants in Chicago. Solis was exposed to diacetyl, a chemical added to foods to give them a buttery flavor, said the lawsuit.

Studies by the United States National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have suggested that the chemical is hazardous when heated and inhaled over a long period of time.

Several workers in popcorn factories have been diagnosed with the disease and have filed lawsuits against the manufacturers. But Solis' $30.4-million award may be the largest in the country to a sole individual, said McClain.

"His pain and suffering, the loss of life expectancy, these are quality-of-life issues that you can't always put a dollar amount on," McClain told the Chicago Tribune.

BASF plans to appeal, said a spokesperson.

Matt Bartosik is a Chicago native and a social media sovereign.

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