A cross-sectional epidemiological study investigating the respiratory health of children in two Canadian communities was conducted in 1983-1984 in Tillsonburg, Ontario, located in a region of moderately elevated concentrations of transported air pollutants, and in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, situated in a low pollution area. There were no significant local sources of industrial emissions in either community. Seven hundred and thirty-five children aged 7-12 were studied in the first town and 895 in the second. Respiratory health was assessed by the measurement of the forced vital capacity (FVC) and forced expiratory volume in 1 sec (FEV1.0) of each child, and by evaluation of the child's respiratory symptoms and illnesses using a parent-completed questionnaire. Sulfur dioxide (SO2), sulfate, and particulate nitrate levels were significantly higher in Tillsonburg than in Portage la Prairie (P less than 0.05), but nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and inhalable particles (PM10) differed little between the communities. Historical data in the vicinity of Tillsonburg indicated that average annual levels of sulfates, total nitrates, and ozone (O3) did not vary markedly in the 9-year period preceding the study. The results show that Tillsonburg children had statistically significant (P less than 0.001) lower levels of 2% for FVC and 1.7% for FEV1.0 as compared with children in Portage la Prairie. These differences could not be explained by parental smoking or education, the use of gas cooking or wood heating fuels, pollution levels on the day of testing, or differences in age, sex, height, or weight. The differences persisted when children with cough with phlegm, asthma, wheeze, inhalant allergies, or hospitalization before age 2 for a chest illness were excluded from analysis. With the exception of inhalant allergies, which occurred more frequently in Tillsonburg children, the prevalence of chronic respiratory symptoms and illnesses was similar in the two communities.