Posthemorrhagic ventricular dilatation (PHVD) is closely associated with white matter injury and neurologic disability in the preterm infant. An important factor in periventricular white matter damage may be the specific vulnerability of iron-rich immature oligodendroglia to reactive oxygen species toxicity. Non-protein-bound iron (NPBI) is a potent catalyst in the generation of hydroxyl radicals (Fenton reaction). Our objective was to determine whether NPBI is increased in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from preterm infants with PHVD compared with preterm control infants. Samples of CSF were obtained from 20 infants with PHVD and 10 control subjects. The level of NPBI was determined by a new spectrophotometric method using bathophenanthroline as a chelator. To evaluate the effect of hemolysis, CSF and blood were mixed in different proportions, spun, frozen and thawed, and then analyzed for NPBI. NPBI was found in 75% (15 of 20) of infants with PHVD and in 0% (0 of 10) of control infants (p = 0.0002). Hemolysis induced in vitro did not result in any significant levels of NPBI. Within the group with PHVD, NPBI concentrations in CSF did not correlate with disability, parenchymal brain lesions, or the need for shunt surgery. NPBI was increased in CSF from preterm infants with PHVD, and the increase could not be explained by hemolysis alone. Free iron may help to explain the association between intraventricular hemorrhage and white matter damage.