The urinary excretion of 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) was measured in two reference groups of non-occupationally exposed individuals and in four groups of workers. Two of these groups were exposed to what were considered to be low levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) on the basis that even post-shift 1-OHP excretion values were low (< 2 mumol/mol creatinine). Therefore, urine samples were collected from these workers after a period of > 60 h without occupational exposure which should yield values approaching background levels. Pooling these results with those of the reference groups yielded a total of 140 individuals having a mean (geometric) excretion of 0.08 mumol/mol creatinine and 5th, 50th and 95th percentiles of 0.02, 0.09 and 0.32 mumol/mol creatinine. The mean (geometric) excretion in the 95 nonsmokers and 45 smokers of this pool was 0.07 and 0.12 mumol/mol creatinine, respectively (one-tailed Student t-test, P < 0.001). Both this background excretion and the contribution of smoking appeared small in comparison with the excretion levels observed in some groups of exposed workers. Indeed, creosote workers described in this report had a geometric mean (range) excretion of 1.63 (0.18-10.47) mumol/mol creatinine during their working week. It is concluded that, for the biological monitoring of workers exposed to PAH, urinary 1-OHP appears to be a useful bioindicator for which background environmental contamination or smoking habits can be neglected in most cases.