Kinetic and thermodynamic evidence is reported for the role of the peroxymonocarbonate ion, HCO4-, as a reactive oxygen species in biology. Peroxymonocarbonate results from the equilibrium reaction of hydrogen peroxide with bicarbonate via the perhydration of CO2. The kinetic parameters for HCO4- oxidation of free methionine have been obtained (k1 = 0.48 +/- 0.08 M(-1)s(-1) by a spectrophotometric initial rate method). At the physiological concentration of bicarbonate in blood ( approximately 25 mM), it is estimated that peroxymonocarbonate formed in equilibrium with hydrogen peroxide will oxidize methionine approximately 2-fold more rapidly than plasma H2O2 itself. As an example of methionine oxidation in proteins, the bicarbonate-catalyzed hydrogen peroxide oxidation of alpha1-proteinase inhibitor (alpha1-PI) has been investigated via its inhibitory effect on porcine pancreatic elastase activity. The second-order rate constant for HCO4- oxidation of alpha1-PI (0.36 +/- 0.06 M(-1)s(-1)) is comparable to that of free methionine, suggesting that methionine oxidation is occurring. Further evidence for methionine oxidation, specifically involving Met358 and Met351 of the alpha1-PI reactive center loop, has been obtained through amino acid analyses and mass spectroscopic analyses of proteolytic digests of the oxidized alpha1-PI. These results strongly suggest that HCO4- should be considered a reactive oxygen species in aerobic metabolism.