Biomaterials are essential for life support and monitoring of critically ill patients, but their use increases the risk of nosocomial infection. Of the various plastics used for life support and monitoring devices, polyvinylchloride is one to which bacteria most readily adhere. Through the use of qualitative culture techniques and scanning and transmission electron microscopy, we studied the surfaces of polyvinylchloride endotracheal tubes removed from 25 ICU patients, to determine if bacterial adhesion to those tubes was sufficient to provide a possible source for repeated contamination of the tracheobronchial tree. Of the surfaces studied, 16% were partially covered and 84% were completely covered by an amorphous bacteria-containing matrix. Some biofilm-enclosed bacterial aggregates projected from the matrix into the lumen of the tube. The mechanism by which endotracheal tubes repeatedly inoculate the lungs of intubated patients may prove to be dislodgment of such aggregates by suction apparatus.