Data from a random sample of 8,515 white adults residing in 6 cities in the eastern and midwestern United States were used to examine the relationships between occupational exposures to dust or to gases and fumes and chronic respiratory symptoms; 31% of the population had a history of occupational dust exposure and 30% reported exposure to gas or fumes. After adjusting for smoking habits, age, gender, and city of residence, subjects with either occupational exposure had significantly elevated prevalences of chronic cough, chronic phlegm, persistent wheeze, and breathlessness. The adjusted relative odds of chronic respiratory symptoms for subjects exposed to dust ranged from 1.32 to 1.60. Subjects with gas or fume exposure had relative odds of symptoms between 1.27 and 1.43 when compared with unexposed subjects. Occupational dust exposure was associated with a higher prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as defined by an FEV1/FVC ratio of less than 0.6, when comparing exposed and unexposed participants (OR = 1.53, 95% Cl = 1.17-2.08). Gas or fume exposure was associated with a small, but not significant, increase in COPD prevalence. Significant trends were noted for wheeze and phlegm with increasing duration of dust exposure. Although 36% of exposed subjects reported exposure to both dust and fumes, there was no evidence of a multiplicative interaction between the effects of the individual exposures. Smoking was a significant independent predictor of symptoms, but did not appear to modify the effect of dust or fumes on symptom reporting. These data, obtained in random samples of general populations, demonstrate that chronic respiratory symptoms and disease can be independently associated with occupational exposures.