'Popcorn Lung' Lawsuit Nets $7.2M Award


Wayne Watson's love of popcorn almost turned deadly after he developed respiratory problems in 2007 known as "popcorn lung."

Watson, a Denver native, says he ate about two bags of popcorn everyday for 10 years, and developed the rare disease possibly from inhaling the artificial butter smell of the microwave popcorn. On Wednesday, Watson won a $7.2 million verdict against Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co. and Dillon Companies Inc., for his illness.

"I probably look like a fairly healthy guy but I only have, on a good day, about 53 percent lung capacity," Watson told ABC News.

Popcorn lung is usually found in plant workers exposed to high levels of diacetyl, an artificial flavoring used to give popcorn that buttery taste. Watson sued the popcorn maker and the supermarket that sold it, Kroger, claiming the companies never warned consumers that diacetyl - also recently linked to Alzheimer's-was dangerous.

"They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference well they rolled the dice and they lose," Watson told ABC News.

Defense attorneys argued that Watson's health problems stemmed from working with carpet-cleaning chemicals for years, according to KCNC-TV in Denver.

Many manufacturers no longer use the diacetyl in microwave popcorn. The popcorn maker, Glister-Mary Lee, did not return ABC News' calls for a comment, but issued a statement to KCNC-TV, saying, it was disappointed with the jury's decision and is "evaluating next steps." The statement added the company has provided "safe, quality microwave popcorn for two decades."

Watson previously settled claims against the flavor developer FONA International Inc., formerly Flavors of North America Inc., according to The Associated Press.

As for the money, Watson plans on giving some to charity, but says he will not be buying microwave popcorn.