The uptake of carcinogenic and mutagenic Cr compounds and the intracellular distribution of their biotransformation products in V79 Chinese hamster lung cells were studied by synchrotron-radiation-induced X-ray emission (SRIXE). SRIXE analysis was performed on whole cells that had been treated with either Cr(III) or Cr(V) 1,10-phenanthroline complexes, or Cr(VI). The high spatial resolution (0.3 microm) and elemental sensitivity (~10(-15) g Cr/cell) of the technique provided detailed maps of Cr and other cellular elements in thin sections prepared from Cr(VI)-treated cells. The Cr carcinogen concentrated in P-rich regions corresponding to the nucleus, as well as other areas of the cell that are likely to correspond to organelles. This is the first study that has enabled the determination of the localization of the biotransformation products of Cr(VI) carcinogens in a target lung cell.