Potential for diffuse parenchymal lung disease after exposures at World Trade Center Disaster site



Objective: The diffuse parenchymal lung diseases (DPLDs) are a heterogeneous group of disorders that result from damage to the lung parenchyma. While the cause of most DPLDs remains unknown, extensive epidemiological and experimental evidence has linked exposure to environmental toxins to the pathogenesis of some of those diseases. The purpose of this review is to examine the potential relation between exposure to toxins released from the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse on September 11th, 2001 and the development of DPLD based on published evidence up to date.

Methods: We examine such evidence from two points of view, (1) exposure, and (2) histopathogenesis. Exposure: Analyses of WTC-dust and particle size demonstrate that some portion of the dust was composed of particles small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs, reaching distal airways and alveoli. The presence of such particles has been confirmed in studies of induced sputum and bronchoalveolar lavage in WTC-exposed firefighters. Histopathogenesis: In vitro and animal experiments and patient evidence suggest that WTC dust is capable of inducing a pulmonary interstitial inflammatory response.

Results: To date, there have been limited clinical reports documenting the development of diffuse parenchymal responses following exposure to WTC dust. No single common pathologic response has been described. The one common denominator in the reports is that the individuals who developed disease were heavily exposed either during the disaster or during the initial 2-to-3 days following the disaster.

Conclusion: DLPDs are probably associated with heavy or extended exposure to the toxins released at the WTC disaster site. Coupled with the historical experience with exposures to occupational toxins this mandates continued long-term clinical observation of this cohort. Mt Sinai J Med 75:101–107, 2008© 2008 Mount Sinai School of Medicine