Average growth of lung function over a 4-yr period, in three cohorts of southern California children who were in the fourth, seventh, or tenth grade in 1993, was modeled as a function of average exposure to ambient air pollutants. In the fourth-grade cohort, significant deficits in growth of lung function (FEV(1), FVC, maximal midexpiratory flow [MMEF], and FEF(75)) were associated with exposure to particles with aerodynamic diameter less than 10 micrometer (PM(10)), PM(2.5), PM(10)-PM(2.5), NO(2), and inorganic acid vapor (p < 0.05). No significant associations were observed with ozone. The estimated growth rate for children in the most polluted of the communities as compared with the least polluted was predicted to result in a cumulative reduction of 3.4% in FEV(1) and 5.0% in MMEF over the 4-yr study period. The estimated deficits were generally larger for children spending more time outdoors. In the seventh- and tenth-grade cohorts, the estimated pollutant effects were also negative for most lung function measures, but sample sizes were lower in these groups and none achieved statistical significance. The results suggest that significant negative effects on lung function growth in children occur at current ambient concentrations of particles, NO(2), and inorganic acid vapor.