JOPLIN, MO. A jury was chosen Monday in the first of a series of claims brought by workers with a rare lung disease they say was caused by artificial butter vapors at a microwave popcorn plant.
A jury of seven women and five men was picked after attorneys questioned a panel of 75 prospective jurors in a closed courtroom. Four alternate jurors were also chosen. Opening statements were set for this morning, and lawyers for both sides agreed not to speak to the media until the trial was over.
Eric Peoples, 31, who is awaiting a lung transplant, is one of 30 former workers at the Gilster-Mary Lee Corp. plant in Jasper suing two makers of the butter flavoring for unspecified damages. He was selected to have his case heard first because he is among the sickest.
Peoples is seeking unspecified damages from two makers of the butter flavoring, International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and its subsidiary Bush Boake Allen Inc. Gilster-Mary Lee is not a defendant.
The trial is considered a landmark legal battle aimed at linking bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as popcorn packers' lung, to the butter flavorings vapors in the popcorn mixing room at the Gilster-Mary Lee plant. The disease restricts and obstructs the functioning of the lungs.
The suit alleges the two manufacturers knew or should have known that the butter flavorings were hazardous and that they failed to warn those who worked with it of the dangers or give instructions on safe use of the product.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has said it suspects exposure to a chemical in the butter flavoring, diacetyl, caused the health problems.