This study evaluates the environmental, nonoccupational component of mesothelioma incidence among persons living in Manville, Somerset County, New Jersey, the location of the largest asbestos manufacturing plant in North America. Prior to removal of occupational cases, residents of Manville had an average annual (1979-1990) mesothelioma rate of 636 male cases and 96 female cases per million population, about 25 times higher than average state rates. Somerset County had 143 diagnosed mesothelioma cases reported to the population-based. New Jersey State Cancer Registry from 1979 through 1990. Cases were removed from the analysis when their "usual employment" was reported as being at the asbestos plant, as evidenced through union lists or occupational information from either the Cancer Registry or mortality records. Standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) were computed for residents of Manville and Somerset County (less the Manville population) by sex. New Jersey mesothelioma rates less the Somerset County contribution, 1979-1990, were used to generate the expected number of cases. The SIRs for Manville males and females were respectively 10.1 [95% confidence interval (CI): 5.8-16.4] and 22.4 (95% CI: 9.7-44.2). Male and female Somerset County mesothelioma incidence rates were 1.9 (95% CI: 1.4-2.5) and 2.0 (95% CI: 1.0-3.6). This record-based approach demonstrates a strong relationship between past asbestos exposure from living in Manville and eventual development of mesothelioma. The use of methods in this study may be helpful in evaluating hazards of other known occupational carcinogens found in community settings.