The association between childhood leukaemia and exposure to pesticides was examined in a population-based case-control study conducted in Lower Saxony, Northern Germany. Between July 1988 and June 1992, 219 newly diagnosed cases were identified, of whom 173 participated in the study. Two sex- and age-matched control groups were recruited: local controls from the same communities as the newly diagnosed cases of leukaemia and state controls from other randomly selected communities in Lower Saxony. An additional study group consisted of 175 cases of solid tumours. When the leukaemia cases were compared with the local controls, positive associations with parental occupational exposure, particularly agriculture-related exposure, were observed, which were statistically non-significant. A significant association was found for pesticide use in gardens (odds ratio = 2.52, 95% confidence interval: 1.0-6.1). No positive associations were seen when the leukaemia cases were compared to the state controls, but this finding could be explained by a higher proportion of state controls living in rural areas. In communities with a significantly elevated standardised incidence ratio of childhood leukaemia over the last decade (1984-1993), the prevalence of pesticide use in the garden was 21%, compared with the 10% in other communities. None of the examined risk factors were more common among cases of solid tumours. Our findings add some evidence to the hypothesis that pesticides are a risk factor for childhood leukaemia, and there are good reasons to consider abundant pesticide use in rural areas as a possible cause for clustering of childhood leukaemia.