We report results for chromosomal aberrations in human peripheral blood lymphocytes after they were exposed to high-energy iron ions with or without shielding at the HIMAC, AGS and NSRL accelerators. Isolated lymphocytes were exposed to iron ions with energies between 200 and 5000 MeV/nucleon in the 0.1-1-Gy dose range. Shielding materials consisted of polyethylene, lucite (PMMA), carbon, aluminum and lead, with mass thickness ranging from 2 to 30 g/cm2. After exposure, lymphocytes were stimulated to grow in vitro, and chromosomes were prematurely condensed using a phosphatase inhibitor (calyculin A). Aberrations were scored using FISH painting. The yield of total interchromosomal exchanges (including dicentrics, translocations and complex rearrangements) increased linearly with dose or fluence in the range studied. Shielding decreased the effectiveness per unit dose of iron ions. The highest RBE value was measured with the 1 GeV/nucleon iron-ion beam at NSRL. However, the RBE for the induction of aberrations apparently is not well correlated with the mean LET. When shielding thickness was increased, the frequency of aberrations per particle incident on the shield increased for the 500 MeV/nucleon ions and decreased for the 1 GeV/nucleon ions. Maximum variation at equal mass thickness was obtained with light materials (polyethylene, carbon or PMMA). Variations in the yield of chromosomal aberrations per iron particle incident on the shield follow variations in the dose per incident particle behind the shield but can be modified by the different RBE of the mixed radiation field produced by nuclear fragmentation. The results suggest that shielding design models should be benchmarked using both physics and biological data.