During winter months many neighborhoods in the Seattle metropolitan area are heavily affected by particulate matter from residential wood burning. A study was conducted to investigate the relationship between fine particulate matter and pulmonary function in young children. The subjects were 326 elementary school children, including 24 asthmatics, who lived in an area with high particulate concentrations predominantly from residential wood burning. FEV1 and FVC were measured before, during and after the 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 winter heating seasons. Fine particulate matter was assessed using a light-scattering instrument. Analysis of the relationship between light scattering and lung function indicated that an increase in particulate air pollution was associated with a decline in asthmatic children's pulmonary function. FEV1 and FVC in the asthmatic children dropped an average of 34 and 37 ml respectively for each 10(-4) m-1 increase in sigma sp. This sigma sp increase corresponds to an increase in PM2.5 of 20 micrograms/m3. It is concluded that fine particulate matter from wood burning is significantly associated with acute respiratory irritation in young asthmatic children.