New York City Firefighters (FDNY-FFs) were exposed to particulate matter and combustion/pyrolysis products during and after the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse. Ten months after the collapse, induced sputum (IS) samples were obtained from 39 highly exposed FDNY-FFs (caught in the dust cloud during the collapse on 11 September 2001) and compared to controls to determine whether a unique pattern of inflammation and particulate matter deposition, compatible with WTC dust, was present. Control subjects were 12 Tel-Aviv, Israel, firefighters (TA-FFs) and 8 Israeli healthcare workers who were not exposed to WTC dust. All controls volunteered for this study, had never smoked, and did not have respiratory illness. IS was processed by conventional methods. Retrieved cells were differentially counted, and metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9), particle size distribution (PSD), and mineral composition were measured. Differential cell counts of FDNY-FF IS differed from those of health care worker controls (p < 0.05) but not from those of TA-FFs. Percentages of neutrophils and eosinophils increased with greater intensity of WTC exposure (< 10 workdays or greater than or equal to 10 workdays; neutrophils p = 0.046; eosinophils p = 0.038). MMP-9 levels positively correlated to neutrophil counts (p = 0.002; r = 0.449). Particles were larger and more irregularly shaped in FDNY-FFs (1-50 microm; zinc, mercury, gold, tin, silver) than in TA-FFs (1-10 microm; silica, clays). PSD was similar to that of WTC dust samples. In conclusion, IS from highly exposed FDNY-FFs demonstrated inflammation, PSD, and particle composition that was different from nonexposed controls and consistent with WTC dust exposure.