Two of the most common cytogenetic changes in therapy- and chemical-related leukemia are the loss and long (q) arm deletion of chromosomes 5 and 7. The detection of these aberrations in lymphocytes of individuals exposed to potential leukemogens may serve as useful biomarkers of increased leukemia risk. We have used a novel fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) procedure to determine if specific aberrations in chromosomes 1, 5 and 7 occur at an elevated rate in the blood cells of workers exposed to benzene. Forty-three healthy workers exposed to a wide range of benzene concentrations (median 31 p.p.m., 8 h time-weighted average) and 44 unexposed controls from Shanghai were studied. Whole blood was cultured and metaphase spreads were harvested at 72 h. Benzene exposure was associated with increases in the rates of monosomy 5 and 7 but not monosomy 1 (P < 0.001, P < 0.0001 and P = 0.94, respectively) and with increases in trisomy and tetrasomy frequencies of all three chromosomes. Long arm deletion of chromosomes 5 and 7 was increased in a dose-dependent fashion (P = 0.014 and P < 0.0001) up to 3.5-fold in the exposed workers. These results demonstrate that leukemia-specific changes in chromosomes 5 and 7 can be detected by FISH in the peripheral blood of otherwise healthy benzene-exposed workers. We suggest that aberrations in chromosomes 5 and 7 may be useful biomarkers of early biological effect for benzene exposure.