Fly ash particles were collected from the precipitator of a power plant in Hong Kong and the hemolytic activity of the particles of the respirable range (smaller than 10μm) was studied using a rat red blood cell assay system. It was revealed that coal-fired fly ash had a high hemolytic activity which was dose independent. The hemolysate changed from red to brownish-green. Chemical analyses, including scanning electron microscopy incorporated with energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis, inductively coupled plasma spectrophotometry, and X-ray power diffractometry, showed that a considerable amount of calcium salt coated the surface of the particles. The high alkalinity of the calcium salt initially damaged the red blood cell membrane and then destroyed the hemoglobin molecules released from the damaged cells. This phenomenon only caused a discrepancy if the amount of hemoglobin which remained in the incubation medium was taken into account for the measurement of hemolytic activity of fly ash particles. Copyright © 1987 Academic Press, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.