To determine the magnitude of the population at risk from non-occupational exposure to crocidolite at Wittenoom, Western Australia (WA), a cohort of 4,890 residents who never worked for the mining company Australian Blue Asbestos (ABA) has been assembled from all 18,553 available records: the local school register, hospital attendances, the WA electoral roll, birth certificates, workers who answered a mailed questionnaire in 1979, participants in a cancer-prevention programme using vitamin-A dietary supplements, and other sources. The majority of subjects were relatives and friends of ABA employees, and nearly half the cohort were either born at Wittenoom or first went there as children under 10 years of age. As most residents were at Wittenoom when the mine and mill were in operation during the period 1943 to 1966, 82% were first exposed to crocidolite 20 or more years ago. The proportion of other workers (i.e., not employed by ABA) and their families increased once the mining operations ceased. To date, 24 cases of mesothelioma have been reported in this cohort: 9 males and 15 females. Time from first exposure to diagnosis ranged from 23 to 44 years and residence in Wittenoom ranged from 6 weeks to 11 years. (C) 1993 Wiley-Liss, Inc.