A pilot study was performed to evaluate the feasibility of using trans,trans-muconic acid (MA) as a biomarker of environmental benzene exposure. A secondary aim was to provide data on the extent of exposure to selected toxicants in a unique population consisting of inner-city children who were already overexposed to one urban hazard, lead. Potential sources of benzene were assessed by a questionnaire. Exposure biomarkers included urinary MA and cotinine and blood lead. Mean MA was 176.6 +/- 341.7 ng/mg creatinine in the 79 children who participated. A wide range of values was found with as many as 10.1%, depending on the comparison study, above the highest levels reported in adults not exposed by occupation. Mean MA was increased in children evaluated in the afternoon compared to morning, those at or above the median for time spent playing near the street, and those studied in the first half of the investigation. MA levels were not associated with blood lead or, consistently, with either questionnaire environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) data or cotinine. As expected, the mean blood lead level was elevated (23.6 micrograms/dl). Mean cotinine was also increased at 79.2 ng/mg creatinine. We conclude that the use of MA as a biomarker for environmental benzene exposure is feasible since it was detectable in 72% of subjects with a wide range of values present. In future studies, correlation of MA with personal air sampling in environmental exposure will be essential to fully interpret the significance of these findings. In addition, these inner-city children comprise a high risk group for exposure to environmental toxicants including ETS, lead, and probably benzene, based on questionnaire sources and its presence in ETS.