In November 1984, because of an accident at a chemical plant, the population of a large area in the town of Geneva, Switzerland, was exposed to toxic bromine gas during several hours at concentrations above the short-term exposure limit. We describe the development of the disaster, the reactions of the fire brigade, the police and the first aid services as well as the breakdown of communications that occurred. On-the-spot epidemiological assessment of the exposed area and of the characteristics of the exposure syndrome was combined with the emergency care of 91 self-referred patients that were seen at the University Hospital. Follow-up was obtained one month later. The clinical course was moderate (eyes and upper airways irritation) and self-limiting in all cases. Immediate definition of the exposed population permitted effective follow-up. Such early evaluation could prove to be of crucial importance for managing more serious accidents of a similar nature.