Coal dust exposure can induce an acute alveolar and interstitial inflammation that can lead to chronic pulmonary diseases. The objective of this study was to describe the acute and later effects of acute coal dust exposure in lung parenchyma and the involvement of reactive oxygen species in coal dust effects. Forty-eight male Wistar rats (200-250 mg) were separated into four groups: 48 h, 7 days, 30 days, and 60 days after coal dust instillation. Gross mineral coal dust (3 mg/0.5 mL saline) was administered directly in the lungs of the treatment group by intratracheal instillation. Control animals received only saline solution (0.5 mL). Lipid peroxidation was determined by the quantity of thiobarbituric acid-reactive species (TBARS), oxidative damage to protein was obtained by the determination of carbonyl groups, the total radical-trapping antioxidant parameter (TRAP) was estimated by luminol chemoluminescence emission, catalase activity was measured by the rate of decrease in hydrogen peroxide, and superoxide dismutase activity was assayed by the inhibition of adrenaline autooxidation. Histological evaluation of coal dust-treated rats demonstrated an inflammatory infiltration after 48 h of the exposure. Initially, this was a cellular infiltration suggestive of lymphocyte infiltration with lymphoid hyperplasia that remained until 7 days after induction. This initial response was followed by a chronic inflammatory infiltration characterized by aggregates of macrophages 30 days after induction. This inflammatory response tended to resolve 60 days after induction, being similar to that of control animals. During both the acute and chronic phases of lung inflammation we observed a decrease in the TRAP in the lung of coal dust-exposed animals compared to that in control animals. We also observed an activation of superoxide dismutase 60 days after coal dust exposition. TBARS were increased 60 days after coal dust exposure and protein carbonyl groups increased at all times after coal dust exposure (48 h, 7 days, 30 days, and 60 days). These data suggested a biphasic inflammatory response and the involvement of oxidative damage in coal dust-induced lung damage.