Resealed erythrocyte membranes (ghosts) filled with (Fe3+)cytochrome c were used as an assay system to measure the release of superoxide (O-2) from human phagocytes into the incubation medium. Neutrophils, activated by either opsonized zymosan particles or the soluble stimulus phorbol myristate acetate, released O-2, which subsequently entered the ghosts and reduced (Fe3+)cytochrome c. This reaction was dependent on the time of incubation, the concentration of neutrophils, the concentration of stimulus, and the concentration of ghosts. The reaction was completely inhibited by superoxide dismutase and by 4,4'-diisothiocyano-2,2'-disulfonic acid, a specific blocker of anion channels in membranes. The reduction of (Fe3+)cytochrome c free in solution was about four times as fast as the reduction of (Fe3+)cytochrome c in the ghosts. Human eosinophils stimulated by phorbol myristate acetate reacted similarly to human neutrophils; the rate of O-2 production/cell was about twice as high for eosinophils as for neutrophils. In contrast, eosinophils stimulated with opsonized zymosan particles only reduced (Fe3+)cytochrome c free in solution, but not (Fe3+)cytochrome c in ghosts. This lack of reaction was not due to production of an inhibitor or below threshold generation of O-2 for the ghost assay. These results indicate: 1) activated human neutrophils and eosinophils can release O-2 or a similar product into the incubation medium; and 2) reduction of (Fe3+)cytochrome c free in solution is no proof for O-2 excretion by phagocytes.