Ambient particulate matter (PM) is an environmental factor that has been associated with increased respiratory morbidity and mortality. The major effect of ambient PM on the pulmonary system is the exacerbation of inflammation, especially in susceptible people. One of the mechanisms by which ambient PM exerts its proinflammatory effects is the generation of oxidative stress by its chemical compounds and metals. Cellular responses to PM-induced oxidative stress include activation of antioxidant defense, inflammation, and toxicity. The proinflammatory effect of PM in the lung is characterized by increased cytokine/chemokine production and adhesion molecule expression. Moreover, there is evidence that ambient PM can act as an adjuvant for allergic sensitization, which raises the possibility that long-term PM exposure may lead to increased prevalence of asthma. In addition to ambient PM, rapid expansion of nanotechnology has introduced the potential that engineered nanoparticles (NP) may also become airborne and may contribute to pulmonary diseases by novel mechanisms that could include oxidant injury. Currently, little is known about the potential adverse health effects of these particles. In this communication, the mechanisms by which particulate pollutants, including ambient PM and engineered NP, exert their adverse effects through the generation of oxidative stress and the impacts of oxidant injury in the respiratory tract will be reviewed. The importance of cellular antioxidant and detoxification pathways in protecting against particle-induced lung damage will also be discussed.