Tuesday, September 07, 2010

$30M award to 'popcorn lung' victim is most ever


A Cook County jury has delivered the biggest verdict ever in a "popcorn lung" case: $30.4 million.

Factory worker Gerardo Solis, 45, of South Elgin, won the award after alleging his lung disease was caused by exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in the making of butter-flavored microwave popcorn and other foods. It has been linked to health problems by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Solis has bronchiolitis obliterans, which makes it difficult to breathe. He is awaiting a lung transplant, said his lawyer, Ken McClain.

Last month's verdict is against BASF Corp., which "allowed workers to be used as blue-collar guinea pigs," McClain said.

Solis worked for about 18 years at area firms that used diacetyl in the making of microwave popcorn, cake mix, ice cream and other foods.

One of the firms -- Flavorchem of Downers Grove -- was supplied with diacetyl by BASF of Wyandotte, Mich., McClain said.

Solis' lungs were already damaged by the time he joined Flavorchem, McClain said. However, the jury took note that his lungs deteriorated even more while there, and that BASF AG, the German parent of BASF, did a 1993 study on rats that showed diacetyl caused lung damage but did not disclose the findings, McClain said.

Fifteen other employers or suppliers in the case settled out of court. BASF plans to appeal, a spokeswoman said.

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