The addition of menadione or paraquat to rat liver microsomes resulted in about a threefold increase in the production of hydroxyl radical (.OH) as reflected by the increased oxidation of 2-keto-4-thiomethylbutyric acid (KMBA) to ethylene. This increase was not sensitive to Superoxide dismutase but was blocked by catalase. The increase occurred in the absence of added iron and was not affected by the potent iron chelating agent, desferrioxamine, which suggests the possibility that .OH was produced from an interaction between H2O2 and the paraquat or menadione radical. Menadione and paraquat were especially effective in stimulating the oxidation of KMBA in the presence of certain iron chelates such as ferric-ADP, -ATP, or -EDTA, but not ferric-desferrioxamine, -citrate, or -histidine, or unchelated iron. In fact, ferric-ADP or -ATP only stimulated .OH production in the presence of menadione or paraquat. In the presence of ferric-EDTA, the greater than additive increase of .OH production was sensitive to catalase, but not to superoxide dismutase, suggesting the possibility of reduction of ferric-EDTA by paraquat or menadione radical. The interactions with ferric adenine nucleotides may increase the catalytic effectiveness of menadione or paraquat in producing potent oxidants such as the hydroxyl radical, and thus play a role in the toxicity associated with these agents. Paraquat and menadione had little effect on the overall oxidation of ethanol by microsomes. Microsomal drug metabolism was decreased by menadione or paraquat. As a consequence, the effect of these agents on the microsomal oxidation of ethanol was complex since it appeared that paraquat and menadione stimulated the oxidation of ethanol by a .OH-dependent mechanism, but inhibited the oxidation of ethanol by a cytochrome P-450-dependent oxidation pathway. Experiments with carbon monoxide, ferric-EDTA, and 2-butanol plus catalase tended to verify that microsomal oxidation of alcohols was increased by a .OH-dependent pathway when menadione or paraquat were added to microsomes.