We performed a study on Belarusian "liquidators", exploring whether increase in the frequencies of germline mutations at microsatellite loci could be found in their progeny. The liquidators, mostly young males, were those involved (during 1986 and 1987) in clean-up operations in the radioactively contaminated area following the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident in 1986. Many liquidators fathered children during the clean-up period and after the work had been terminated. The numbers of families studied were 64 (liquidators) and 66 (controls). A total of 72 loci (31 autosomal, one X-linked and 40 Y-linked) were used. DNA was isolated from peripheral blood lymphocytes and the microsatellite loci were amplified by the polymerase chain reaction with fluorescence-labelled primers. Mutations were detected as variations in the length of the loci. At the Y-linked loci, the mutation rates (expressed as number of mutations among the total number of loci for the individuals included) are 2.9 x 10(-3) (4/1392) and 2.1 x 10(-3) (3/1458) in the children of exposed and control parents, respectively. This difference is not statistically significant. At the autosomal loci, the corresponding estimates are 5.9 x 10(-3) (11/1862; exposed group) and 8.5 x 10(-3) (18/2108; control). Again, the difference is not significant. The possibility that the Belarusian population might have been unexpectedly exposed to some chemical contaminants in the environment appears unlikely in view of the finding that the spontaneous mutation rates at the same set of loci in several non-Belarusian populations were similar to those in Belarus. The estimated mean radiation dose to the liquidators was small, being about 39 mSv, and this might be one reason why no increases in mutation rates due to radiation could be found.