To identify the mechanism through which nanoparticulate zero-valent iron (nZVI; Fe0(s)) damages cells, a series of experiments were conducted in which nZVI in phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) was exposed to oxygen in the presence and absence of human bronchial epithelial cells. When nZVI is added to PBS, a burst of oxidants is produced as Fe0 and ferrous iron (Fe[II]) are converted to ferric iron (Fe[III]). Cytotoxicity and internal reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in cells exposed to nZVI is equivalent to the response observed when cells are exposed to the same concentration of dissolved Fe(II). Experiments conducted in the absence of cells indicate that the oxidant produced during Fe(II) oxidation reacts with methanol and dimethyl sulfoxide, but not with compounds such as tert-butanol and benzoate that react exclusively with hydroxyl radical. The role of reactive oxidants produced during Fe(II) oxidation in cytotoxicity and internal ROS production is further supported by experiments in which cell damage was limited by the addition of ligands that prevented Fe(II) oxidation and by the absence of cell damage when the nanoparticles were oxidized prior to exposure. The behavior of the oxidant produced by nZVI is consistent with an oxidant such as the ferryl ion, rather than hydroxyl radical.