Exposure of Nile tilapia, Oreochromis niloticus (mean weight, 55.72 +/- 4.30 g), to two sublethal NO2-N concentrations was studied for 24 and 48 h in a static test. In nitrite exposure tests, the percentages of methemoglobin, external nitrite, plasma nitrite, hemoglobin and hematocrit were assessed. Nitrite exposure in the range of 0.50 and 1.38 mg l(-1) NO2-N caused an increase in methemoglobin levels; however, methemoglobin percentages ranging from 16% to 42% represented a mild methemoglobinemia. Levels of methemoglobin were unrelated to environmental and plasmatic nitrite concentrations. The nitrite concentration in the blood did not seem to be linked to time of exposure. Nitrite exposure in Nile tilapia was associated with a marked reduction in hemoglobin and hematocrit.