This study compared the complication rates of tube thoracostomy performed in the emergency department (ED) versus the operating room (OR) and the inpatient ward (IW). A retrospective case series of all patients at an urban, university-based level 1 trauma center hospital who received tube thoracostomy for any indication between 1/1/93 and 12/31/93 was conducted. Complications were defined as empyema, unresolved pneumothorax (persistent air leak or residual pneumothorax), persistent effusion, or incorrect placement. The data for age and duration of tube placement were weighted for analysis of variance (ANOVA). A total of 352 tube thoracostomies was placed in 239 patients. Twenty-three patients had three or more chest tubes placed, 65 had two placed, and the remaining 181 had a single tube. Ninety-nine tubes were placed in the ED, 87 in the OR, and 166 on IW. The mean age of patients in the ED was 37 years, and differed significantly (P < .015) from those in the OR (48 years) and the IW (44 years). The duration of tube placement was similar for all groups (mean = 6.5 days). The overall complication rates related to tube insertion were: ED, 14.0%; OR, 9.2%; IW, 25.3%. Significance was achieved when comparing complication rates between the ED and IW, with less complications in the ED (P = .0436). When comparing complication rates between the ED and OR, there was no significant difference (P = .3643). A power calculation indicated too small of a sample size to truly determine an insignificant difference between complication rates between the ED and OR. Placement of emergent thoracostomy tubes in the ED does not result in an increased complication rate as compared to placement in the IW.