The study was aimed at the assessment of genotoxic effects in workers of a wooden furniture manufacture, based on the level of DNA damage in white blood cells (WBC). The alkaline single cell gel electrophoresis assay (known as the comet assay) in individual cells was adapted for detecting damaged DNA in WBC. The level of DNA damage was determined as the percentage of cells with comets. It was assessed in cells before and after incubation in RPMI 1640 medium and CO(2) at 37 degrees C for 1 h to repair DNA breaks. Thirty-five woodworkers and 41 control subjects were studied. In the woodworkers, significantly more cells with DNA damage (21.5%) were observed than in the control persons (9.7%). A slight but significant decrease in the level of DNA damage was found in the WBC of woodworkers after incubation (17.2%). Significantly higher levels of damaged DNA was observed in woodworkers who either smoked (22.1%) or did not smoke cigarettes (20.8%) than in smokers (13.2%) and non-smokers (7.0%) from the control group. After incubation, a slight decrease in the level of DNA damage was found in both smoking and non-smoking woodworkers compared to the respective subjects in the control group. The increased levels of DNA damage observed in the woodworkers could be associated with the occupational exposure to wood dust in the furniture manufacture.