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. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  2. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  3. Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh who is helping Sister Fuller with this Con Artist Kevin Bart McCarthy scares Sister Joseph Therese, Patricia Ann Fuller very much that McCarthy will try and hurt Patricia Ann Fuller and Paul Hartman of Burbank, Oh or any member of his family. Sister is very, very scared, (YES, I AM) This McCarthy guy is a real, real CON MAN and crook. I try to totall flatter Kevin Bart McCARTHY to keep him from hurting my best friends in this world which are Carolyn Rose and Paul Hartman. I Live in total fear of this man Kevin Bart McCarthy and try to praise him as a good man to keep us ALL from his bad deeds. This man could easy have some one cause us a very bad disability. You have to PRAISAE in order TO PROTECT yourself. He lies and makes up stories about people and then tries to steal if THEY OWN THRU THE COURTS A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO PROTECT, EX> Our Lady of America DEVOTION. EVERYONE who reads this, PLEASE BE CAREFUL of Kevin Bart McCarthy of Indianapolis, IN My Phone No. IS 419-435-3838.

  4. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  5. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.