Ethylene oxide (EO) is mutagenic in various in vitro and in vivo test systems and carcinogenic in rodents. EO forms different adducts upon reaction with DNA, N7-(2-hydroxyethyl)guanine (N7-HEG) being the main adduct. The major objectives of this study were: (a) to determine the formation and persistence of N7-HEG adducts in liver DNA of adult male rats exposed to 0, 50, 100 and 200 ppm by inhalation (4 weeks, 5 days/week, 6 h/day) and (b) to assess dose-response relationships for Hprt gene mutations and various types of chromosomal changes in splenic lymphocytes.N7-HEG adducts were measured 5, 21, 35 and 49 days after cessation of exposure. By extrapolation, the mean concentrations of N7-HEG immediately after cessation of exposure ('day 0') to 50, 100 and 200 ppm were calculated as 310, 558 and 1202 adducts/10(8) nucleotides, respectively, while the mean concentration in control rats was 2.6 adducts/10(8) nucleotides. At 49 days, N7-HEG values had returned close to background levels. The mean levels of N-(2-hydroxyethylvaline) adducts in haemoglobin were also determined and amounted 61.7, 114 and 247 nmol/g globin, respectively. Statistically significant linear relationships were found between mean N7-HEG levels ('day 0') and Hprt mutant frequencies at expression times 21/22 and 49/50 days and between mean N7-HEG ('day 0') and sister-chromatid exchanges (SCEs) or high frequency cells (HFC) measured 5 days post-exposure. At day 21 post-exposure, SCEs and HFCs in-part persisted and were significantly correlated with persistent N7-HEG adducts. No statistically significant dose effect relationships were observed for induction of micronuclei, nor for chromosome breaks or translocations. In conclusion, this study indicates that following sub-chronic exposure, EO is only weakly mutagenic in adult rats. Using the data of this study to predict cancer risk in man resulting from low level EO exposures in conjunction with other published data, i.e., those on (a) genotoxic effects of EO in humans and rats, (b) DNA binding of other carcinogens, (c) natural background DNA binding and (d) genotoxic potency of low energy transfer (LET) radiation, it is not expected that long term occupational exposure to airborne concentrations of EO at or below 1 ppm EO produces an unacceptable increased risk in man.