The lung, which is in intimate contact with the external environment, is exposed to a number of toxicants both by virtue of its large surface area and because it receives 100% of the cardiac output. Lung diseases are a major disease entity in the U.S. population ranking third in terms of morbidity and mortality. Despite the importance of these diseases, key issues remain to be resolved regarding the interactions of chemicals with lung tissue and the factors that are critical determinants of chemical-induced lung injury. The importance of cytochrome P450 monooxygenase dependent metabolism in chemical-induced lung injury in animal models was established over 25 years ago with the furan, 4-ipomeanol. Since then, the significance of biotransformation and the reasons for the high degree of pulmonary selectivity for a myriad of different chemicals has been well documented, mainly in rodent models. However, with many of these chemicals there are substantial differences in the susceptibility of rats vs. mice. Even within the same species, varied levels of the respiratory tract respond differently. Thus, key pieces of data are still missing when evaluating the applicability of data generated in rodents to primates, and as a result of this, there are substantial uncertainties within the regulatory community with regards to assessing the risks to humans for exposure to some of these chemicals. For example, all of the available data suggest that the levels of cytochrome P450 monooxygenases in rodent lungs are 10-100 times greater than those measured in the lungs of nonhuman primates or in man. At first glance, this suggests that a significant margin of safety exists when evaluating the applicability of rodent studies in the human, but the issues are more complex. The intent of this review is to outline some of the work conducted on the site and species selective toxicity and metabolism of the volatile lung toxic aromatic hydrocarbon, naphthalene. We argue that a complete understanding of the cellular and biochemical mechanisms by which this and other lung toxic compounds generate their effects in rodent models with subsequent measurement of these cellular and biochemical events in primate and human tissues in vitro will provide a far better basis for judging whether the results of studies done in rodent models are applicable to humans.