Illustration depicting a sign with a health scare concept.

Looks like working for a coffee roaster may be hazardous to your health. Sure, you may occasionally hurt your little piggies tip-toeing on eggshells so as to not abrade the fragile sensibilities of the egomaniacal head roaster, but those cuts are minor and generally worth all the free coffee. But NPR reports that there’s a much more dire threat to the health and well-being of those working at a coffee roastery: lung disease caused by roasting exhaust.

The culprit is a chemical called diacetyl, a naturally occurring byproduct of the coffee roasting process. If inhaled in high enough concentrations, diacetyl could lead to a very severe lung disease called obliterative bronchiolitis. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention first took note of the chemical when investigating a Texas coffee roasting facility back in 2012 after five former employees of the coffee roaster developed the aforementioned lung disease. The CDC found incredibly high levels diacetyl in the facility, with the highest concentrations coming in the room where flavored coffee was processed. Perhaps more relevant to the specialty coffee crowd, the CDC also found the chemical where unflavored coffee was produced.

More research is still being done to determine if diacetyl is the sole cause of obliterative bronchiolitis in the known cases and exactly what amounts should be deemed harmful. The National Coffee Association has issued a statement over the possible heath risks, stating in effect that coffee has been roasted for centuries in unideal circumstances, so its exhaust is probably not the cause. Until more research is done and science gets to the bottom of this, it would be a good idea to make sure the roaster exhaust is properly ventilated and that the roastery has good air circulation. Maybe all the hot air from that blowhard head roaster can finally be put to good use.

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.