The prevalence of different measurements of respiratory illness among construction painters was examined and the relation between respiratory illness and employment as a painter assessed in a cross sectional study of current male members of two local affiliates of a large international union of painters. Respiratory illness was measured by questionnaire and spirometry. Longer employment as a painter was associated with increased prevalence of chronic obstructive disease and an interactive effect was observed for smoking and duration of employment as a painter. Multiple regression analysis showed a significant association between years worked as a painter and a decrement in FEV1 equal to about 11 ml for each year worked. This association was larger among painters who had smoked. The prevalence of chronic bronchitis was significantly associated with increased use of spray application methods.