Parkinson's disease (PD) has been proposed to result from the interaction of aging and environment in susceptible individuals. Defective metabolism of debrisoquine, inherited as an autosomal recessive, has been associated with this susceptibility. In 35 PD patients and 19 age-matched controls, no significant differences in debrisoquine metabolism were found, although a trend to impaired metabolism was noted in patients with disease onset less than or equal to 40. Foci of PD patients were associated with rural living and well water drinking, or rural living coupled with market gardening or wood pulp mills. In a questionnaire survey, patients with PD onset less than or equal to age 47 were significantly more likely to have lived in rural areas and to have drunk well water than those with onset greater than or equal to age 54 (p less than or equal to 0.01). Because of population mobility in North America, a case-control study designed to test environmental, occupational, dietary and other proposed risk factors for PD was conducted in China, where the population is more stationary and the environment more stable. No significant differences in incidences of head trauma, smoking or childhood measles were found between patients and controls.