The objectives of this work were to investigate the toxicity of silicon carbide whiskers and powders and silicon nitride whiskers and powders and to compare their toxicity with the toxicity of crocidolite. The effects studied were inhibition of the cloning efficiency of V79 cells, formation of DNA strand breaks by means of a nick translation assay, formation of oxygen radicals in three different assays, and the ability to stimulate neutrophils to produce hydroxyl radicals. All materials showed concentration-dependent inhibition of the cloning efficiency of V79 cells. The inhibition by the most toxic whiskers was in the same order of magnitude as that of crocidolite. Milled whiskers and powders were less toxic than the whiskers. There was a high DNA breaking potential for crocidolite and four of the silicon carbide whiskers and a rather low one for the other materials. Formation of hydroxyl radicals was found for crocidolite and one of the silicon carbide whiskers. In the neutrophil activation test, there was a great variation in the different materials' abilities to activate neutrophils. There was also a good correlation between chemiluminescence and H2O2 formation. The highest activation was found in neutrophils exposed to two of the silicon carbide whiskers and one milled whisker. The conclusion of the investigation is that some of the ceramic materials studied had damaging biological effects comparable to or greater than those of crocidolite. The results from the investigation clearly imply that caution is needed in the introduction of new ceramic fiber materials, so that the correct precautions and protective devices are used in order to avoid harm to the personnel handling the material.