The immune system has many responses to something it identifies as potentially harmful to the body, including inflammatory responses. When inflammatory cells do not disperse, small clumps, called granulomas, can develop in many tissues in the body, but is most prevalent in the lungs. Symptoms of pulmonary sarcoidosis include coughing and shortness of breath. If the disease progresses, scar tissue can form, increasing the risk of pneumonia and other serious lung ailments.
What causes sarcoidosis? We do not know. The fact that most cases affect the lungs suggests that the immune system is reacting to an environmental toxin. It is no surprise that 9/11 first responders and those who lived and worked in the area have a higher than normal incidence of sarcoid-like granulomatous pulmonary disease. A recent study of firefighters who were at the site of the collapse showed a rate of 54 per 100,000 cases in 2003 to 2004 compared with a previous rate of 15 per 100,000.
Rescue workers who had the heaviest exposure to the dust are not the only affected group. As of 2011, three civilians who were in the vicinity of the World Trade Towers on 9/11 have died from complications of sarcoidosis. The condition usually heals naturally. Some cases do not respond, however, and if enough damage is done to lung tissue, it can be fatal.
Anyone who was exposed to 9/11 environmental toxins and has subsequent persistent breathing problems should get a medical exam right away. If you are diagnosed with sarcoidosis or other 9/11-related illnesses, you may be eligible for compensation.