The nasal passages are a common portal of entry and are a prime site for toxicant-induced pathology. Sustained increases in regenerative cell proliferation can be a significant driving force in chemical carcinogenesis. The atmosphere in Mexico City contains a complex mixture of air pollutants and its residents are exposed chronically and sequentially to numerous toxicants and potential carcinogens. We were concerned that exposure to Mexico City's atmosphere might induce cytotoxicity and increase nasal respiratory epithelial cell proliferation. Nasal biopsies were obtained for DNA cell cycle analysis from 195 volunteers. The control population consisted of 16 adults and 27 children that were residents in a Caribbean island with low pollution. The exposed Mexico City population consisted of 109 adults and 43 children. Sixty-one of the adult subjects were newly arrived in Mexico City and were followed for 25 days from their arrival. Control children, control adult and exposed Mexico City children all had similar percentages of cells in the replicative DNA synthesis phase (S phase) of the cell cycle (%S). A significant increase in %S in nasal epithelial cells was seen in exposed adult residents in Mexico City biopsied at three different dates compared with control adults. Newly arrived adults exhibited a control level of cell turnover at day 2 after coming to the city. However, at days 7, 14 and 25 they exhibited significant increases in %S. These data demonstrate an increased and sustained nasal cell turnover rate in the adult population observable in as little as 1 week of residence in Mexico City. This increase in cell proliferation is in agreement with other reports of induced pathological changes in the nasal passages of Mexico City dwellers. These observations suggest an increased potential risk factor of developing nasal neoplasms for residents of large cities with heavy pollution.