To investigate the effects of air pollution on the respiratory health of children, a subject of some controversy, a comparative study was undertaken of 2,385 school children who lived in central urban, peripheral urban, and suburban areas. Daily monitoring of sulphur dioxide and total suspended particle concentrations in all areas showed that pollutant concentrations in central and peripheral urban areas were above commonly accepted safety levels for respiratory health, while concentrations in the suburban area were within acceptable limits. A questionnaire administered to each mother assessed environmental exposure to pollutants in the household, the occurrence of respiratory symptoms as well as lung diseases as diagnosed by a physician, and general information. Children were interviewed about smoking habits and any acute respiratory symptoms. Children also performed standard lung function tests. Results showed that children from both urban areas had lessened pulmonary function and a higher prevalence of bronchial secretion with common colds than did those from the suburban area. These differences persisted after corrections for exposure to indoor pollutants, active or passive smoking, socioeconomic status, and sex. Parental cigarette smoking was related to a fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 second and an increased incidence of acute respiratory illnesses and chronic cough in children. Although boys had higher lung volumes and lower air flow, regression analysis showed no significant influence of the interactions "sex-geographic area" and "sex-smoking" on lung function. It was concluded that air pollution has a significant effect on the respiratory health of children.