The binding of bleomycin to DNA in the presence and absence of ferric iron was measured by fluorescence spectroscopy. In millimolar concentrations of tris(hydroxymethyl)aminomethane, pH 7.5, approximately 80% of the bleomycin binds to DNA. Ferric iron seems to have no significant effect on the binding of DNA to bleomycin. The induction of oxygen uptake by ferrous iron and bleomycin was monitored in the presence and absence of DNA. DNA has no effect on the rate of oxygen uptake. Therefore, the iron binding site and the DNA binding site appear to be independent of each other. Under conditions where 80% of the bleomycin is bound to DNA, the ferrous iron-bleomycin-induced reduction of oxygen follows Michaelis-Menten kinetics. Ferrous iron autoxidation produces ethylene from methional. The addition of bleomycin greatly increases ethylene production. DNA, under conditions where 80% of the bleomycin is bound to DNA, inhibits ethylene production. Since ethylene is a measure of hydroxyl radical production, we conclude that DNA is able to compete with methional for the hydroxyl radical. We postulate a mechanism for DNA double-strand breaks in which the bleomycin selectively binds to DNA and recurrently produces the hydroxyl radical at that site. The localized generation of many hydroxyl radicals as provided by the proposed oxidation-reduction cycle mechanism may cause multiple strand breaks taking place on both strands of the DNA duplex leading to double-strand breaks. Since catalase, but not superoxide dismutase, is able to inhibit ferrous iron-bleomycin-induced products of the hydroxyl radical, hydrogen peroxide, but not the superoxide radical, is the immediate precursor of the hydroxyl radical.