Formaldehyde (FA) is a common indoor air pollutant with irritative properties. It has been suggested that FA may produce physiologic alterations of the respiratory system. To study such responses, 15 nonsmoking, healthy subjects were exposed in a double blind, random manner to 0 and 2 ppm FA for 40 min in an environmental chamber. In addition, the same exposures were repeated on a separate day with the subjects performing moderate exercise (450 kpm/min) for 10 min. Exposures were carried out under controlled environmental conditions (temperature = 23 degrees C, relative humidity = 50%). Pulmonary function was measured before, during, and after exposures using partial and maximal flow-volume curves and airway resistance. Symptom diaries were given to the subjects; upper and lower airway symptoms were recorded for up to 24 hr following exposures. No significant bronchoconstriction was noted in this group. In 3 subjects, sequential measurements of peak flow over a 24-hr period following FA exposure failed to reveal any delayed airway response. On a separate day, 6 healthy subjects failed to demonstrate changes from their baseline responsiveness to methacholine after exposure to 2 ppm FA. Respiratory symptoms were, in general, confined to the upper airways and were mild to moderate in severity. We conclude that short exposures to 2 ppm FA do not result in acute or subacute changes in lung function among healthy individuals either at rest or with exercise. Subjective complaints following such exposures are confined to irritative phenomena of the upper airways.