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Sensient settles over use of 'popcorn lung' chemical

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Sensient Flavors LLC will pay a smaller fine in exchange for agreeing to reduce the amount of a chemical it uses at its Indianapolis plant, as part of a settlement it has reached with state regulators.

The agreement, which the state signed off on Friday, settles a federal lawsuit Sensient brought against the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration over intense government scrutiny of health risks at the plant.

The flavorings manufacturer, a subsidiary of Milwaukee-based Sensient Technologies Corp., sued in December 2011 IOSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The 31-page suit, which also named three NIOSH employees and two IOSHA compliance officers, claimed Sensient had been “harassed and intimidated” and “subjected to enormous intrusions” that violated its constitutional rights.

The dispute stemmed from the company’s use of diacetyl, a compound used in microwave popcorn, margarine and other products to create a buttery taste.

Diacetyl has created a firestorm of controversy in recent years, as health regulators and scientists assess its risks. Some U.S. factory workers with prolonged exposure to diacetyl have developed a rare, life-threatening lung condition — dubbed popcorn lung — for which there is no cure.

As part of the settlement, Sensient has agreed to reduce its usage of diacetyl 20 percent and, where feasible, will eliminate its usage of the ingredient altogether by the end of this year.

“IOSHA acknowledges that the administrative and engineering controls represent a good faith effort by Sensient to reduce employee exposures and that these controls will represent a significant cost to Sensient,” IOSHA said in the settlement.

Sensient executive James McCarthy said in a November 2011 letter to NIOSH that his company already has excellent engineering controls to minimize diacetyl exposure. He said additional controls at the Indianapolis plant to meet the proposed standards would cost $4 million to $6 million.

Sensient had faced state fines totaling $323,500 for violating IOSHA standards. The amount, however, has been reduced to $99,000, according to the terms of the settlement. Sensient executives were not available for comment on Wednesday.

Sensient Flavors’ Indianapolis plant, 5600 W. Raymond St., has been in the spotlight since 2008, when the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 135 asked NIOSH to conduct a formal health hazard evaluation. The Teamsters represent more than 100 production and maintenance workers at the plant.

NIOSH, part of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, still had questions after inspecting the plant in May 2008. But when it requested a second look, the company sued, arguing that no new information had emerged that would entitle it to go through the highly invasive process again.

A federal judge shot down that argument in 2009, asserting that it was premature for the company to sue NIOSH while its investigation was ongoing.

Things turned worse for Sensient the following year. In June 2010, NIOSH publicly released a health-hazard report on the Indianapolis plant that found the prevalence of abnormal lung functioning among employees was several times higher than would be expected in the overall U.S. population.

In its lawsuit filed in December 2011, Sensient said the report was “grossly inaccurate and is based upon process, methodology, findings and conclusions which amount to bad science and a clear abuse of agency discretion.”

The parties agreed to settle, recognizing that “the costs and expenses of proceeding with litigation to resolve this dispute may be substantial and that the outcome of such litigation is uncertain," according to the settlement agreement.

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  1. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  2. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  3. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  4. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

  5. ACLU. Way to step up against the police state. I see a lot of things from the ACLU I don't like but this one is a gold star in its column.... instead of fighting it the authorities should apologize and back off.

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