This study assessed the potential harmfulness of particles in the lung by measuring their ability to elicit and maintain an inflammatory response and to damage lung tissue. It compared the inflammogenicity of two nondurable, biological particulates (Corynebacterium parvum and zymosan) with a pathogenic mineral dust (quartz) and a nonpathogenic dust (titanium dioxide) by dosing rats via the intratracheal route and measuring the consequent alveolitis. The magnitude and duration of the inflammatory response were assessed by measuring the total number of leucocytes and the percentage of neutrophils obtained by bronchoalveolar lavage. Two key functional parameters of the lavaged leucocytes--ability to degrade fibronectin and production of plasminogen activator--were also measured. A marked inflammatory response had occurred by one day after instillation, characterised by increases in total leucocyte numbers and percentage of neutrophils in the bronchoalveolar lavages, with all four test materials. In all but the quartz exposed animals, the inflammation subsided rapidly thereafter, approaching control levels by 15 days after injection; in the quartz exposed animals the alveolitis persisted for up to 30 days. All of the inflammogens generated chemotaxins in rat serum in vitro and so, by analogy, might also be expected to generate chemotactic activity in alveolar lining fluid which could contribute to the generation of an inflammatory response. The cellular inflammatory response was accompanied by a concomitant increase in the proteolytic activity of the bronchoalveolar lavage leucocytes but production of plasminogen activator remained unchanged. In vitro exposure to the inflammogens had no effect on the proteolytic activity against fibronectin or on the plasminogen activator activity of bronchoalveolar leucocytes.