Recently concern has been raised about health effects related to environmental sulfur and/or acidic aerosols. To assess long-term effects on respiratory lung function, 8 beagle dogs were exposed over a period of 13 mo for 16.5 h/day to 1-microm neutral sulfite aerosol with a particle-associated sulfur(IV) concentration of 0.32 mg m(-3) and for 6 h/day to 1.1-microm acidic sulfate aerosol providing an hydrogen ion concentration of 15.2 micromol m(-3) for inhalation. Prior to exposure the dogs were kept under clean air conditions for 16 mo to establish physiological baseline values for each dog. A second group of eight dogs (control) was kept for the entire study under clean air conditions. Before and at the end of exposure, respiratory lung function was evaluated in both groups in anesthetized and mechanically ventilated animals. Lung volumes as well as static and dynamic lung compliances were measured. Series dead-space volumes and slopes of the alveolar plateau for respiratory (O2, CO2) and inert test gases (He, SF6) were determined from single-breath washout tracings. Monodisperse 0.9-microm DEHS droplets were used to assess convective mixing in the lungs and to evaluate airway dimensions in vivo. Gas exchange across the alveolar-capillary layer was characterized by membrane diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide and alveolar-arterial pressure differences for respiratory gases. A bronchial challenge with carbachol was used to assess airway responsiveness. In comparison to the control group, dogs exposed to sulfur(IV) and acidic aerosol exhibited no significant changes in any respiratory lung function parameter. Also the responsiveness of the bronchial airways to carbachol was not affected. In view of the results obtained in this and previous studies, we conclude that anticipated synergistic effects of the two air pollutants on pulmonary lung function were not observed. It is hypothesized that antagonistic effects of the air pollutants on the activity of phospholipase A2 play an important role and account for counteracting physiological compensatory mechanisms. The results emphasize the complexity of health effects on lung function in response to the complex mixtures of ambient air pollutants and witness the precariousness in the risk assessment of air pollutants for humans.