Diacetyl- Risks, Prevalence, and Precautions
It recently came to light for an eLiquid manufacturer that some of their liquids were tainted with a substance known as Diacetyl. The reason why this is important — and the reason why their quick response to it, as well as their open and frank notification of their users of it, is the purpose of this article.
On January 3rd,Mountain Oak Vapors released the following announcement:
“During a recent clinical study of one of our E-Liquids it has been brought to our attention that one of our Caramel Flavorings MAY contain Diacetyl. Diacetyl (a common ingredient in buttery/custard flavors) has been known to cause damage to the lungs from sustained and prolonged inhalation. While we use many different ingredients from many different suppliers across the USA, it has always been our goal to make sure each and every recipe is DIACETYL FREE. This error falls on us, as we failed to realize Caramel could be the culprit for an ingredient such as this.
As a company, we have always been open and honest about everything. So at this time we’d like to issue a general warning announcement. While all of these E-Liquids were not tested, they do share the same Caramel flavoring as the E-Liquid that was tested.
FULL VIRGINIA FLAKE RY4
CHAI TEA LATTE
If you currently have any of these bottles and are not comfortable with vaping them, you may return them to Mountain Oak Vapors for an exchange. Please email email@example.com to arrange this, or if you’re local just stop by any of our business locations.
For now, we are working to source an alternative ingredient of equal caliber as a suitable replacement for the caramel used in these recipes. We expect the process to take around 3-4 weeks. In the interim, we have temporarily suspended the sale of these 4 flavors. As soon as it is possible that we can bring these flavors back, we will.
If you have any further questions in regards to this matter you may email them to: Administrator AT mountainoakvapors.com”
But the big question I had, and which I suspect many readers will have is: What is Diacetyl? Why the suspension of sales?
What is Diacetyl, and what are the risks of Diacetyl inhalation?
To find out what Diacetyl is, and the potential health risks of inhaling it is I consulted as many sources as I could find. The first I found was, I will readily admit, more than a little alarming.
To begin with, Diacetyl is a naturally occurring compound formed through the reaction of fermentation. It is generally present in some alcoholic beverages, such as various wines, as a natural consequence of the fermentation process; however, in most wines, it is reabsorbed by the yeasts that initially form it.
It’s also used extensively in butters and margarines and is the compound that gives them their characteristic flavor. When you taste something you would describe as, “buttery”, what you’re actually describing is the flavor of Diacetyl.
However, it’s also used in a variety of other foodstuffs in order to lend them a butter, butterscotch or, and this is the bit that should be of particular importance to Vapers, the part where Mountain Oak Vapors’ discovery comes in, a caramel flavor.
Now, ordinarily, the consumer would never face the risks of inhalation of Diacetyl; by the time you purchase anything containing this substances — say a package of microwave popcorn — the compound is saturated in the foodstuff you’re about to consume.
However, according to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Diacetyl when inhaled can, in rare cases, present health risks to the respiratory system of some mammals, including humans.
Quoting from the OSHA “Hazard Communication Guidance for Diacetyl and Food Flavorings Containing Diacetyl (Which you can read in full at this link <https://www.osha.gov/dsg/guidance/diacetyl-guidance.html>):
A number of employees exposed to FFCD have developed serious respiratory illness presenting with persistent dry cough, wheezing, shortness of breath upon exertion, and fixed airways obstruction on spirometry. Several employees have been diagnosed with asthma or bronchiolitis obliterans. Bronchiolitis obliterans occurs when small airways become inflamed and scarred, resulting in the thickening and narrowing of the airways. The symptoms and airways obstruction range from mild to severe, and do not improve when the employee goes home or on vacation. Because bronchiolitis obliterans is a rare disease, some employees may have been potentially misdiagnosed with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and/or pneumonia. The loss of pulmonary function associated with severe bronchiolitis obliterans is permanent and some patients have been placed on lung transplant waiting lists.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has, and continues to investigate, the occurrence of severe lung disease in employees at microwave popcorn packaging plants (NIOSH, 2003) and flavorings manufacturing facilities (Kanwal and Kullman, 2007). NIOSH reported that medical tests of employees at microwave popcorn plants showed fixed airways obstruction, some cases consistent with bronchiolitis obliterans, and other respiratory illnesses such as occupational asthma. NIOSH concluded that the lung diseases identified in these microwave popcorn plant employees were likely due to exposure to butter flavoring chemicals (NIOSH, 2003; Kanwal, et al., 2006). NIOSH also described cases of fixed airways obstruction, including three cases consistent with bronchiolitis obliterans, among employees producing butter and vanilla flavorings containing Diacetyl at a flavorings manufacturing facility (Kanwal and Kullman, 2007). NIOSH concluded that, in this facility, “[i]t is highly likely that exposures to Diacetyl contributed to the occurrence of severe fixed obstructive lung disease…”, but that the role of other flavoring chemicals was unknown (Kanwal and Kullman, 2007).
NIOSH also reported that employees at microwave popcorn plants and a flavorings manufacturing facility experienced eye, nasal, and/or upper respiratory irritation and/or burns (NIOSH, 2003; Kanwal and Kullman, 2007). In some cases, skin and eye burns have required medical treatment. For more information about specific NIOSH Health Hazard Evaluations (HHE) regarding these chemicals, see http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html.
Recent studies have shown respiratory tract damage and death among rodents exposed to Diacetyl and butter flavorings containing Diacetyl. Hubbs and co-investigators demonstrated in a preliminary study that exposure of rats to 198.4 ppm of Diacetyl for 6 hours caused necrosis of the nasal and tracheal epithelium (Hubbs, et al., 2004). In another preliminary study, exposure of mice to 200 and 400 ppm Diacetyl via inhalation for 6 hours per day over 5 days caused death, acute necrotizing rhinitis, and erosive or necrotizing laryngitis (Morgan, 2006). This same study also showed exposure of mice to 200 and 400 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) Diacetyl via oropharyngeal aspiration caused bronchiolar fibrosis and death. Recent inhalation studies have demonstrated that exposure of rats to butter flavoring vapors containing high concentrations of Diacetyl (300 ppm) caused epithelial injury in the nasal passages and pulmonary airways (Hubbs, et al., 2002)
Now, there are a few things I would like you to understand about my perspective on what you just read.
First, the preceding deals with inhalation of the raw compound, undiluted. The potential risk you would face on inhaling a vapor containing comparatively minimal traces of this compound in eLiquid vapor form are, let me hedge my bets here, likely to be… well… comparatively minimal.
Second, we don’t know, at the time of this writing, at what concentrations this compound was found in the affected eLiquids.
Finally, what we do know, at the time of this writing, both from Mountain Oak Vapors’ public statement and from my communications with Steve Nair at Mountain Oak Vapors is that no presence of this compound in the affected eLiquids is acceptable to MOV.
Regardless of how minimal the risk is, they do not consider any level of risk to be acceptable. I’ll touch on that fact once more in the conclusion. For now, let’s move on to how the infiltration of Diacetyl is likely to occur.
How does Diacetyl find its way into eLiquids?
So how could Diacetyl find its way into eLiquids? The first and most immediate route I can logically imagine is most likely that ingredient suppliers are still not quite considering all of the possible applications of their ingredients.
For them, what might be a perfectly acceptable flavor additive is simply not given the proper amount of thought for the flavor additive’s uses — and so they omit vital chemical components from its list of ingredients.
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