Workers in U.S. food factories need immediate government protection from a flavoring chemical blamed for a debilitating lung disease and used in products from microwave popcorn to dog food, labor unions and physicians said Wednesday.

Two of the largest U.S. unions and a group of doctors petitioned the U.S. Department of Labor to issue an emergency order to reduce factory exposure to diacetyl, a flavoring that sparked a 2001 lawsuit by 30 popcorn plant workers in Jasper, Mo., who alleged that inhaling the chemical ravaged their lungs.