Respiratory sensitization and occupational asthma are associated with exposure to 1,6-hexamethylene diisocyanate (HDI) in both monomeric and oligomeric forms. The monomer and polymers of diisocyanates differ significantly in their rates of absorption into tissue and their toxicity, and hence may differ in their contribution to sensitization. We have developed and evaluated a liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC-MS) method capable of quantifying HDI and its oligomers (uretidone, biuret, and isocyanurate) in air, tape-stripped skin, and paint samples collected in the automotive refinishing industry. To generate analytical standards, urea derivatives of HDI, biuret, and isocyanurate were synthesized by reaction with 1-(2-methoxyphenyl)piperazine and purified. The urea derivatives were shown to degrade on average by less than 2% per week at -20 degrees C over a 2 month period in occupational samples. The average recovery of HDI and its oligomers from tape was 100% and the limits of detection were 2 and 8 fmol microl(-1), respectively. Exposure assessments were performed on 13 automotive spray painters to evaluate the LC-MS method and the sampling methods under field conditions. Isocyanurate was the most abundant component measured in paint tasks, with median air and skin concentrations of 2.4 mg m(-3) and 4.6 microg mm(-3), respectively. Log-transformed concentrations of HDI (r = 0.79, p < 0.0001) and of isocyanurate (r = 0.71, p < 0.0001) in the skin of workers were correlated with the log-transformed product of air concentration and painting time. The other polyisocyanates were detected on skin for less than 25% of the paint tasks. This LC-MS method provides a valuable tool to investigate inhalation and dermal exposures to specific polyisocyanates and to explore relative differences in the exposure pathways.