Several studies have suggested an association between childhood cancer and pesticide exposure. California leads the nation in agricultural pesticide use. A mandatory reporting system for all agricultural pesticide use in the state provides information on the active ingredient, amount used, and location. We calculated pesticide use density to quantify agricultural pesticide use in California block groups for a childhood cancer study. Pesticides with similar toxicologic properties (probable carcinogens, possible carcinogens, genotoxic compounds, and developmental or reproductive toxicants) were grouped together for this analysis. To prioritize pesticides, we weighted pesticide use by the carcinogenic and exposure potential of each compound. The top-ranking individual pesticides were propargite, methyl bromide, and trifluralin. We used a geographic information system to calculate pesticide use density in pounds per square mile of total land area for all United States census-block groups in the state. Most block groups (77%) averaged less than 1 pound per square mile of use for 1991-1994 for pesticides classified as probable human carcinogens. However, at the high end of use density (> 90th percentile), there were 493 block groups with more than 569 pounds per square mile. Approximately 170,000 children under 15 years of age were living in these block groups in 1990. The distribution of agricultural pesticide use and number of potentially exposed children suggests that pesticide use density would be of value for a study of childhood cancer.