We assessed the effects of occupational exposure in a general population sample living in an unpolluted rural area of North Italy. In the age range of 18 to 64 yr, there were 417 participants who reported any exposure to dusts, chemicals, or gases and 1,218 who reported no exposure. Each subject completed a standardized interviewer-administered questionnaire (CNR-questionnaire). A variable proportion of participants succeeded in performing flow-volume curves, diffusing capacity of carbon monoxide, and slope of alveolar plateau of nitrogen. There was no significant difference for symptom prevalence rates between exposed and nonexposed in men and women who smoke. In nonsmoking women, those exposed showed significantly higher prevalence rates for exertional dyspnea and asthma. Regarding lung function, in exposed male smokers there was a significantly higher slope of the alveolar plateau. In exposed female nonsmokers, FEV1 and forced expiratory flows were significantly lower. Multiple logistic models in the overall group, accounting for age, smoking, and pack-years, showed that work exposure was associated significantly with higher risks for all symptoms in men (e.g., odds ratio: 2.76 for dyspnea, 2.31 for asthma, 1.69 for cough, and 1.64 for phlegm); in females, the association was significant for dyspnea (OR = 3.74) and asthma (OR = 3.29). Exposed men also had a significantly higher risk for %FEV1 or FEV1/FVC% below 70 (OR = 1.45). Our findings confirm those of the other few epidemiologic surveys in general population samples and contribute to the suggestion of a causal association between occupational exposure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.