Human populations are thought to metabolize coumarin almost exclusively by 7-hydroxylation. We have identified an individual who is homozygous for a single amino acid substitution (Leu160His) in the cytochrome P450 CYP2A6 arising from the variant CYP2A6*2 allele. On administration of coumarin (2 mg orally) no detectable 7-hydroxycoumarin was excreted in the 0-8-hr urine, rather, approximately 50% of the dose was eliminated as 2-hydroxyphenylacetic acid, the end-product of coumarin 3-hydroxylation. His immediate family members, who were heterozygous for the CYP2A6*2 allele, excreted little 2-hydroxyphenylacetic acid and mainly 7-hydroxycoumarin, when similarly tested. These findings raise a question regarding human risk evaluations for environmental coumarin exposures, since 7-hydroxylation is regarded as a detoxication pathway, but 3-hydroxylation as the process required to lead to macromolecular covalent binding of coumarin. Persons homozygous for the CYP2A6*2 allele may constitute 1-25% of various populations.