DNA-damaging effects of asbestos in the presence of organic peroxides and hydroperox ides were investigated. The destabilization of the secondary structure of DNA, damage to deoxyribose sugar and DNA fidelity were measured, respectively, by S-1 nuclease hydrolysis, the formation of thiobarbituric acid (TBA)-reacting species and a melting temperature (Tm) profile using calf thymus DNA. S-1 nuclease hydrolysis and Tm determinations have shown that the presence of benzoylperoxide (BOOB), cumene hydroperoxide (COOH) or tertiary-butyl hydroperoxide (t-BOOH) increased asbestos-mediated DNA damage by a large factor compared either to asbestos alone or to peroxide or hydroperoxide alone. However, no formation of TBA-reacting species could be observed in this system. The quenchers of reactive oxygen species (ROS) afforded protection against DNA damage. These results suggest that asbestos in the presence of organic peroxides and hydroperoxides damage the DNA which is mediated by the generation of oxygen free radicals. The significance of these results in relation to the development of cancer of the respiratory tract among the asbestos exposed population is discussed. © 1993 British Occupational Hygiene Society.