Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA was identified in the plume produced during CO2 laser vaporization of respiratory tract papillomata. The plume produced from CO2 vaporization was collected on Gelfoam pledgets that were affixed to suction tips evacuating the vapor plume from the operative field. The Gelfoam pledgets were snap frozen in liquid nitrogen, processed, and examined for HPV-6 and HPV-11 DNA by a polymerase chain reaction technique. Tissue and vapor-plume specimens were collected from 22 patients undergoing CO2 laser excision of laryngeal lesions. Seven patients had adult-onset recurrent respiratory laryngeal papillomatosis (RRP), 12 had juvenile-onset RRP, two had laryngeal carcinoma, and one had nonspecific laryngitis. HPV-6 or HPV-11 was identified in 17 of 27 vapor-plume specimens from RRP and in none of three from non-RRP lesions. All but one RRP tissue specimen contained HPV-DNA, and none of the non-RRP tissues contained HPV-DNA. When HPV was present in vapor, the same HPV type was found in the corresponding tissue specimen. Identification of HPV-DNA in the laser plume raises concern regarding potential risks from exposure to the plume--particularly to the endoscopic surgeon and the operating team. The practical concerns and effectiveness of the plume scavenging systems are discussed.