Reported herewith are the results from an ongoing study of outdoor air pollution and the health of persons living in the communities in close proximity to petrochemical industrial complexes. To determine if there is an excess of adverse health outcomes in the population exposed to petrochemical industrial emissions, a health survey was undertaken in 1996 in this area and in one reference area which has no local industrial emissions. The subjects were 436 adults (30-64 years of age) living in the Sanwei area (exposed area) and 488 in Taicei (reference area). For several indicators of respiratory health, including cough, wheezing, and chronic bronchitis, the prevalence rates were not significantly different between the study and the control populations. Acute irritative symptoms (eye irritation, nausea, throat irritation, and chemical odor perception) were significantly more common in the exposed area, particularly perception of chemical odors (84.6% vs 2.1%). It is concluded that exposure to petrochemical air emissions may be associated with increased rates of acute irritative symptoms. Future studies are needed to identify the potential role of petrochemical industrial emissions (particularly volatile organic compounds) in the genesis of acute irritative symptoms in a nearby petrochemical industrial area.