Many epidemiologic reports associate ambient levels of particulate matter (PM) with human mortality and morbidity, particularly in people with preexisting cardiopulmonary disease (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, infection, asthma). Because much ambient PM is derived from combustion sources, we tested the hypothesis that the health effects of PM arise from anthropogenic PM that contains bioavailable transition metals. The PM samples studied derived from three emission sources (two oil and one coal fly ash) and four ambient airsheds (St. Louis, MO; Washington; Dusseldorf, Germany; and Ottawa, Canada). PM was administered to rats by intratracheal instillation in equimass or equimetal doses to address directly the influence of PM mass versus metal content on acute lung injury and inflammation. Our results indicated that the lung dose of bioavailable transition metal, not instilled PM mass, was the primary determinant of the acute inflammatory response for both the combustion source and ambient PM samples. Residual oil fly ash, a combustion PM rich in bioavailable metal, was evaluated in a rat model of cardiopulmonary disease (pulmonary vasculitis/hypertension) to ascertain whether the disease state augmented sensitivity to that PM. Significant mortality and enhanced airway responsiveness were observed. Analysis of the lavaged lung fluids suggested that the milieu of the inflamed lung amplified metal-mediated oxidant chemistry to jeopardize the compromised cardiopulmonary system. We propose that soluble metals from PM mediate the array of PM-associated injuries to the cardiopulmonary system of the healthy and at-risk compromised host.