The most carcinogenic forms of asbestos contain iron to levels as high as 36% by weight and catalyze many of the same biochemical reactions that freshly prepared solutions of iron do, i.e. oxygen consumption, generation of reactive oxygen species, lipid peroxidation and DNA damage. The participation of iron from asbestos in these reactions has been demonstrated using the iron chelator desferrioxamine B which inhibits iron-catalyzed reactions. Iron appears to be redox active on the asbestos fiber, but chelation and subsequent iron mobilization from asbestos by a variety of chelators, e.g. citrate, EDTA or nitrilotriacetate, makes the iron more redox active resulting in greater oxygen consumption and production of oxygen radicals in the presence of reducing agents. Iron also appears to be important for some of the asbestos-dependent biological effects on tissues or cells in culture, such as phagocytosis, cytotoxicity, lipid peroxidation and DNA damage. Therefore, redox cycling of iron to generate oxygen radicals at the surface of the fiber and/or in solution, as mobilized, low molecular weight chelates, may be very important in eliciting some of the biological effects of asbestos in vivo.