At least 16 current and former employees of a coffee roasting plant in Texas have been confirmed to suffer from bronchiolitis obliterans, a form of lung disease linked to chemicals used in the roasting process. The disease is irreversible and has the potential to be deadly.
According to a new study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, coffee plant employees who have been exposed to the chemicals diacetyl and 2,3-pentanedione, commonly used in commercial roasting operations, face serious occupational lung morbidity as a result of exposure. Both chemicals occur naturally in the process of roasting coffee beans.
The chemicals, which are present in the roasting room, were significantly associated with symptoms like difficulty breathing, aching joints, wheezing, and sinus problems. Employees who worked in other parts of the roasting facility did not report these symptoms.
The study, published by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the research arm of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that employees at other commercial coffee plants likely face the same occupational hazards, and workers who suspect that their plants pose related risks are encouraged to request a health hazard evaluation by the NIOSH.