We assessed the association between occupational exposures and symptoms of chronic bronchitis and pulmonary ventilatory defects in a general population-based study of five areas in Spain. This study forms part of the European Community Respiratory Health Study (ECRHS). Subjects (n = 1,735; age range, 20-44 yr; 52.4% of those initially selected) completed a respiratory questionnaire on symptoms and occupation and underwent baseline spirometry. Occupation was translated with an ad hoc developed job-exposure matrix (EM) into none, low, and high exposure to biological dust, mineral dust, and gases and fumes. Exposure to high levels of biological dust was associated with cough for more than 3 mo (odds ratio [OR], 1.9; p = 0.07), a reduction in FEF(25-27) to 478 ml/s (SD 178), and a reduction in FEV1 to 151 mL (SD 71). These associations remained after excluding subjects with asthma symptoms or bronchial responsiveness. Smokers tended to have a higher risk for respiratory symptoms, but smoking did not modify the association of occupation with pulmonary function. Exposure to mineral dust and gases/fumes was less consistently related to pulmonary function or to respiratory symptoms and this association further decreased after excluding subjects with asthma. In conclusion, exposure to high levels of biological dust in young adults is associated with symptoms of chronic bronchitis and pulmonary ventilatory defects, independently of asthma and smoking.