The cytogenetic effect of 2,4-dichlorophenoxy acetic acid (2,4-D) and its metabolite 2,4-dichlorophenol (2,4-DCP) was studied in bone-marrow, germ cells and sperm head abnormalities in the treated mice. Swiss mice were treated orally by gavage with 2,4-D at 1.7, 3.3 and 33 mg kg(-1)BW (1/200, 1/100 and 1/10 of LD(50)). 2,4-DCP was intraperitoneally (i.p.) injected at 36, 72 and 180 mg kg(-1)BW (1/10, 1/5, 1/2 of LD(50)). A significant increase in the percentage of chromosome aberrations in bone-marrow and spermatocyte cells was observed after oral administration of 2,4-D at 3.3 mg kg(-1)BW for three and five consecutive days. This percentage increased and reached 10.8+/-0.87 (P<0.01) in bone-marrow and 9.8+/-0.45 (P<0.01) in spermatocyte cells after oral administration of 2,4-D at 33 mg kg(-1)BW for 24 h. This percentage was, however, lower than that induced in bone-marrow and spermatocyte cells by mitomycin C (positive control). 2,4-D induced a dose-dependent increase in the percentage of sperm head abnormalities. The genotoxic effect of 2,4-DCP is weaker than that of 2,4-D, as indicated by the lower percentage of the induced chromosome aberrations (in bone-marrow and spermatocyte cells) and sperm head abnormalities. Only the highest tested concentration of 2,4-DCP (180 mg kg(-1)BW, 1/2 LD(50)) induced a significant percentage of chromosome aberrations and sperm head abnormalities after i.p. injection. The obtained results indicate that 2,4-D is genotoxic in mice in vivo under the conditions tested. Hence, more care should be given to the application of 2,4-D on edible crops since repeated uses may underlie a health hazard.