A sensitive and specific radioimmunoassay was used to measure interleukin 8 (IL-8) in bronchoalveolar lavage fluids from control subjects, patients with the adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery, a risk factor for developing ARDS. Concentrations of IL-8, albumin, total protein and numbers of neutrophils were higher in both patient groups than in controls. Levels of IL-8 were significantly correlated with the influx of neutrophils, plasma protein extravasation and with the PaO2/FiO2 ratio. These data suggest that IL-8 may mediate the recruitment of neutrophils from the vascular compartment into the alveolar space and may therefore be an important determinant in neutrophil-mediated lung injury. Since increased levels of IL-8 were also found in BAL fluid from patients at risk in whom ARDS did not develop, other factors are likely to be involved and IL-8, as well as other markers of inflammation, are of little prognostic use.