The National Cooperative Inner-City Asthma Study (NCICAS) was established to identify and then intervene on those factors which are related to asthma morbidity among children in the inner-city. This paper describes the design and methods of the broad-based initial Phase I epidemiologic investigation. Eight research centers enrolled 1,528 children, 4 to 9 years of age, from English- or Spanish-speaking families, all of whom resided in major metropolitan inner-city areas. The protocol included an eligibility assessment and an extensive baseline visit, during which symptom data, such as wheezing, lost sleep, changes in activities of daily living, inpatient admissions, and emergency department and clinic visits were collected. A comprehensive medical history for each child was taken and adherence to the medical regimen was assessed. Access, as well as barriers, to the medical system were addressed by a series of questions including the location, availability, and consistency of treatment for asthma attacks, follow-up care, and primary care. The psychological health of the caretaker and of the child was also measured. Asthma knowledge of the child and caretaker was determined. Sensitization to allergens was assessed by skin-prick allergen testing and exposure to cigarette smoke and the home environment were assessed by questionnaire. For more than a third of the families, in-home visits were conducted with dust sample allergen collection and documentation of the home environment, such as the presence of pets and evidence of smoking, mildew, and roaches. Urine specimens were collected to measure passive smoke exposure by cotinine assays, blood samples were drawn for banking, and children age 6 to 9 years were given spirometric lung function assessment. At 3, 6 and 9 months following the baseline assessment, telephone interviews were conducted to ask about the child's symptoms, unscheduled emergency department or clinic visits, and hospitalizations. At this time, peak flow measurements with 2-week diary symptom records were collected.