In Erfurt, Germany, unfavorable geography and emissions from coal burning lead to very high ambient pollution (up to about 4000 micrograms/m3 SO2 in 1980-89). To assess possible health effects of these exposures, total daily mortality was obtained for this same period. A multivariate model was fitted, including corrections for long-term fluctuations, influenza epidemics, and meterology, before analyzing the effect of pollution. The best fit for pollution was obtained for log (SO2 daily mean) with a lag of 2 days. Daily mortality increased by 10% for an increase in SO2 from 23 to 929 micrograms/m3 (5% quantile to 95% quantile). A harvesting effect (fewer people die on a given day if more deaths occurred in the last 15 days) may modify this by +/- 2%. The effect for particulates (SP, 1988-89 only) was stronger than the effect of SO2. Log SP (daily mean) increasing from 15 micrograms/m3 to 331 micrograms/m3 (5% quantile to 95% quantile) was associated with a 22% increase in mortality. Depending on harvesting, the observable effect may lie between 14% and 27%. There is no indication of a threshold or synergism. The effects of air pollution are smaller than the effects of influenza epidemics and are of the same size as meterologic effects. The results for the lower end of the dose range are in agreement with linear models fitted in studies of moderate air pollution and episode studies.