Methylene chloride (dichloromethane, DCM) is metabolized by two pathways: one dependent on oxidation by mixed function oxidases (MFO) and the other dependent on glutathione S-transferases (GST). A physiologically based pharmacokinetic (PB-PK) model based on knowledge of these pathways was used to describe the metabolism of DCM in four mammalian species (mouse, rat, hamster, and humans). Kinetic constants for the model were derived from in vivo experiments or the literature. The model was constructed to distinguish contributions from the two pathways of metabolism in lung and liver tissue, and to permit extrapolation from rodents to humans. Model validation was conducted by comparing predicted blood concentration time-course data in rats, mice, and humans with experimental data from these species. The tumor incidence in two chronic studies of DCM toxicity in mice was correlated with various measures of target tissue dose calculated with the PB-PK model. Tumor incidence correlated well with tissue AUC (area under the concentration/time curve) and amount of DCM metabolized by the GST pathway. However, tumor incidence did not correlate with the amount of DCM metabolized by the MFO pathway. Because of its low chemical reactivity, DCM is unlikely to be directly involved in carcinogenesis. Consequently, metabolism of DCM by GST appears to be important in carcinogenesis. The PB-PK model was used to estimate target doses of presumed toxic chemical species in humans exposed to DCM by inhalation or by drinking water. Target tissue doses in humans exposed to low concentrations of DCM are 140- to 170-fold lower (inhalation) or 50- to 210-fold lower (drinking water) than would be expected from the linear extrapolation and body surface area factors which have been used in conventional risk assessment methods (D. V. Singh, H. L. Spitzer, and P. D. White (1985). Addendum to the Health Assessment Document for Dichloromethane (Methylene Chloride). EPA/600/8-82/004F). The PB-BK analysis thus suggests that conventional risk analyses greatly overestimate the risk in humans exposed to low concentrations of DCM. PB-PK considerations provide a scientific basis for risk assessment, improve experimental design in chronic studies, and structure collection of quantitative metabolic constants required for risk assessment.