Urban air contains a diversity of chemical compounds, some of which are genotoxins. An increased risk of cancer has also been reported in occupations with heavy exposure to traffic-related pollution. The aim of this study was to assess the cytogenetic effects of urban air pollution by analyzing the chromosomal aberration (CA) frequencies in lymphocytes and to estimate the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) exposure by measuring urinary 1-hydroxypyrene (1-OHP) levels. A total of 15 traffic policemen and 17 taxi drivers working in the city of Ankara were the exposed groups and 23 healthy men working in the office departments were the control group. The overall mean +/- S.D. values of 1-OHP excretions of traffic policemen. taxi drivers and control subjects were 0.59 +/- 0.40 mumol/mol creatinine. 0.32 +/- 0.25 mumol/mol creatinine and 0.57 +/- 0.36 mumol/mol creatinine, respectively. Urinary 1-OHP levels of nonsmoking policemen were significantly greater than those of nonsmoking control subjects (P < 0.05). The overall mean +/- S.D. values for CA frequencies (%) from policemen, taxi drivers and control group were 1.29 +/- 1.59, 1.81 +/- 1.79, and 0.26 +/- 0.73, respectively. There was a significantly greater frequency of CAs in exposed groups relative to the matched control population (p < 0.05; p < 0.01). Age, sex and smoking habits have not influenced the cytogenetic end-point in this study. Our results demonstrate that occupational exposure to urban air pollutants leads to a significant induction of cytogenetic damage in peripheral lymphocytes of traffic policemen and taxi drivers. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.