We have reviewed some of the factors which contribute to lung damage by various toxicants. These include disposition of the chemical, its metabolism, individual cell type susceptibility and the potential for the tissue to repair. We have discussed the use of biochemical parameters to measure the functional activity of individual cell types in order to predict the damage to specific cell types and concluded that careful morphological analysis of lung tissue is likely to provide a more sensitive and informative measure of specific cell type injury. However, in order to investigate the mechanism of toxicity of pulmonary toxicants it is essential to establish the primary biochemical event that leads to cell damage and morphological change. The importance of separating the relevant biochemical change(s) from the cascade of biochemical events associated with dead and dying cells and the reparative response of the lung is emphasised.