Arsenic is a recognized human carcinogen and development of rodent models remains a critically important research objective. Since gestation can be a period of high sensitivity to chemical carcinogenesis, we have performed a series of transplacental carcinogenicity studies in mice with inorganic arsenic. In this study, groups of pregnant C3H mice received drinking water containing sodium arsenite (NaAsO2) at 0, 42.5 and 85 p.p.m. arsenic ad libitum from days 8 to 18 of gestation. These doses of arsenic were well tolerated. Dams delivered normally and at weaning (4 weeks) offspring were randomly put into groups (n = 25) of males or females according to maternal dose. In an attempt to promote skin cancers initiated by transplacental arsenic, duplicate groups of control or arsenic exposed offspring were topically exposed to 12-O-tetradecanoyl phorbol-13-acetate (TPA; 2 micro g/0.1 ml acetone, twice/week) from 4 to 25 weeks of age. Irrespective of TPA exposure, male offspring showed arsenic-induced dose-related increases in hepatocellular carcinoma incidence and multiplicity, as well as increases in adrenal tumor incidence and multiplicity. In female offspring, an increase in epithelial ovarian tumors occurred with arsenic exposure regardless of TPA exposure. Females also showed pre-neoplastic lesions of the reproductive tract, including hyperplasia of the uterus and oviduct, after arsenic but independent of TPA exposure. Although TPA had no effect on skin tumors, it promoted arsenic initiated liver tumors in females and lung tumors in both sexes. Thus, inorganic arsenic, as a single agent, can consistently act as a complete transplacental carcinogen in mice, inducing tumors at multiple sites, and as a tumor initiator in some tissues. Skin tumors were not initiated by arsenic in mouse fetuses possibly indicating tissue-specific mechanisms of action. This study indicates that gestation is a period of high sensitivity to arsenic carcinogenesis.