Over the past three or four decades, there have been important advances in the understanding of the actions, exposure-response characteristics, and mechanisms of action of many common air pollutants. A multidisciplinary approach using epidemiology, animal toxicology, and controlled human exposure studies has contributed to the database. This review will emphasize studies of humans but will also draw on findings from the other disciplines. Air pollutants have been shown to cause responses ranging from reversible changes in respiratory symptoms and lung function, changes in airway reactivity and inflammation, structural remodeling of pulmonary airways, and impairment of pulmonary host defenses, to increased respiratory morbidity and mortality. Quantitative and qualitative understanding of the effects of a small group of air pollutants has advanced considerably, but the understanding is by no means complete, and the breadth of effects of all air pollutants is only partially understood.