An elastase-induced emphysema model was utilized to determine if hamsters with preexisting lung disease were more susceptible to lung damage from air pollutant exposure. Male golden hamsters, divided into two treatment groups, were given a single intratracheal injection of either 6 units of porcine pancreatic elastase (EMP) or buffer (CNT). After a 4-week recovery period, equal numbers of each group were exposed 23 hr/day x 28 day to filtered air (AIR) or to the complex by-products from a dark phase reaction mixture of trans-2-butene, ozone, and sulfur dioxide (MIX). Lung function measurements on the elastase-treated groups showed changes consistent with mild emphysema. There were no significant differences in lung volumes or lung compliance between the AIR- and MIX-exposed animals. However, the nitrogen washout slope decreased and the diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide increased in both the CNT and EMP hamsters exposed to the MIX. The change in diffusing capacity was greater in normal hamsters than in hamsters with emphysema, and it is hypothesized that animals with impaired lung function had a decreased ability to respond to a pulmonary insult from the mix.