Humans are exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from occupational, environmental, medicinal and dietary sources. PAH metabolites in human urine can be used as biomarkers of internal dose to assess recent exposure to PAHs. The most widely used urinary PAH metabolites are 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) or 1-hydroxypyrene-O-glucuronide (1-OHP-gluc), the major form of 1-OHP in human urine, because of their relatively high concentration and prevalence in urine and their relative ease of measurement. Elevated levels of 1-OHP or 1-OHP-gluc have been demonstrated in smokers, in patients receiving coal tar treatment (vs. pre-treatment), in postshift road pavers or coke oven workers, and in subjects ingesting charbroiled meat. This metabolite is found (at low levels) in most human urine samples, even in persons without apparent occupational or smoking exposure. Recent studies suggest that environmental exposure to PAHs (and air particles) is associated with increased excretion of 1-OHP-gluc or 1-OHP. These findings raise the possibility of using urinary concentration of 1-OHP-gluc, or another PAH metabolite, as a surrogate biomarker of exposure to airborne fine (sooty) particulate matter--the major source of PAHs in polluted air. Reported associations between ambient particulate matter concentrations and health effects among adults and children, including respiratory disease and mortality, indicate the need for biomarkers of fine particle exposure. If validated, such biomarkers would be useful in supplementing and refining exposure information obtained by ambient monitoring.