OBJECTIVES: To study whether air contaminants in sawmills can induce acute changes in the upper and lower airways of previously non-exposed subjects. METHODS: Nineteen healthy volunteers were examined to find the concentration of interleukin 6 (IL-6) in nasal lavage fluid and lung function before and after five hour exposure to dusts and fumes generated in a sawmill where timber from Scots pine was sawed. When exposed, the subjects had respirators with and without a particle filter. RESULTS: The median for daily time weighted average concentration of total dust for subjects with respirators without a filter was 0.13 mg/m3, which was significantly higher than the median of 0.04 mg/m3 for subjects who had respirators with a filter. The median for the concentration of IL-6 in the nasal lavage fluid increased after exposure from 0.5 to 5.9 pg/ml in subjects with respirators without a particle filter (P < 0.05). The increase of the concentration of IL-6 was significantly correlated with the dust concentration. A decrease in transfer factor of the lung was significantly correlated with daily time weighted average concentrations of terpenes. CONCLUSION: The findings suggest that healthy volunteers, exposed to air contaminants in a sawmill, show a slight inflammatory reaction. Also, the results of the study indicate the importance of decreasing the concentrations of wood dust in the work environment.