JOPLIN, Missouri (AP) -- A jury was selected Monday to hear the claim of an ailing factory worker who says his rare lung disease was caused by the artificial butter vapors at a microwave popcorn plant.
A panel of 12 and four alternates was chosen. Opening statements were set for Tuesday; lawyers for both sides agreed not to speak to the media until the trial is 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 artificial butter flavoring. He was selected to have his case heard first because he is among the sickest.
Peoples is seeking unspecified damages from International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and a subsidiary. Gilster-Mary Lee is not a defendant; its Jasper plant employs about 130 people.
The trial is considered a landmark legal battle aimed at linking bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as popcorn packers' lung, to vapors from butter flavorings in the popcorn mixing room at the plant. The disease restricts and obstructs the functioning of the lungs.
The suit alleges the manufacturers knew, or should have known, the butter flavorings were hazardous and that they failed to warn workers of the dangers or to 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 butter flavoring, diacetyl, caused the health problems.
Health officials have said there is no danger to people who microwave the popcorn and eat it at home.