Granulocyte elastase (GE, EC 184.108.40.206) is a key enzyme in tissue injury. To elucidate the role of GE in tissue injury, a new method of measuring GE activity in various inflammatory tissue fluids was developed using diazotization and the chromogenic synthetic substrate, L-pyroglutamyl-L-prolyl-L-valine-p-nitroanilide (S-2482). GE activity demonstrated first order kinetics in the range from 1.9 to 30 U/l. Other proteases, such as pancreatic elastase, trypsin, and chymotrypsin did not hydrolyze S-2484. This assay permits the determination of GE activity with a coefficient of variance less than 7.8% and 95.6 to 105.4% recovery. With this method, hydrolytic GE activity was found to be increased in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid from patients with ARDS or pneumonia, synovial fluid from patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and blister fluid from burn patients.