Researchers in the UK have found that several substances commonly found in workplaces can lead to an abnormal autoimmune response in workers, potentially causing a serious inflammatory disease called sarcoidosis. These substances include printer toner, mould, and silica dust. Silica dust has also been a major workplace health and safety issue in Australia, leading to calls for bans on engineered stone due to its link to silicosis.
The study suggests that sarcoidosis is likely triggered by an exaggerated immune response to environmental exposures in genetically predisposed individuals. Workplace exposures contribute to around 30% of sarcoidosis cases, with higher risks for certain groups like firefighters, nurses, and military personnel.
Occupational exposures to substances like silica, pesticides, mould, and photocopier toner have been associated with an increased risk of pulmonary sarcoidosis. The potential causes of sarcoidosis related to workplace exposures include inhaling silica dust during mineral processing, exposure to organic dust containing various components, exposure to certain chemicals, and exposure to metals with immune-stimulating properties.
The study concludes that there may not be a single environmental trigger for sarcoidosis, but rather, various exposures could stimulate a common inflammatory pathway leading to the disease.