Environmental or domestic exposure to asbestos fibers originating from local soil is responsible for a high incidence of diseases in large rural areas of Turkey. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluids (BALF) were obtained for 65 Turkish subjects originating from these areas and for 42 Turkish controls. Asbestos bodies (ABs) and uncovered fibers (UFs) were quantified by phase contrast light microscopy. Total fiber burden was determined by transmission electron microscopy. The main asbestos types disclosed were tremolite and to a lesser extent chrysotile. AB and fiber concentrations were higher in environmentally exposed subjects (geometric mean [geometric standard deviation]: 5.20 [6.22] AB/ml, 444 [11.6] tremolite fibers/ml) than in control subjects (0.22 [1.45] AB/ml, 12.0 [15.4] tremolite fibers/ml) (p < 0.001). In subjects environmentally exposed in Turkey, AB burdens on tremolite were in the same range as those on commercial amphiboles in subjects occupationally exposed in Belgium. In Turkish subjects, values above either 1 AB/ml, 3 uncovered fiber/ml in light microscopy, or 300 fibers/ml in electron microscopy indicated usually an abnormal alveolar retention reflecting a significant cumulative exposure from environmental or domestic origin. These observations are probably valid for other areas in the world where diseases associated with environmental exposure to soil- derived asbestos fibers occur and for immigrants originating from these areas.