The possible association between the risk of rectal cancer and hardness levels in drinking water from municipal supplies was investigated in a matched case-control study in Taiwan. All eligible rectal cancer deaths (986 cases) of Taiwan residents from 1990 through 1994 were compared with deaths from other causes (986 controls), and the hardness levels of the drinking water used by these residents were determined. Data on water hardness throughout Taiwan were collected from Taiwan Water Supply Corporation (TWSC). The control group consisted of people who died from other causes and the controls were pair matched to the cases by sex, year of birth, and year of death. The results show a significant negative relationship between drinking water hardness and rectal cancer mortality. Odds ratio and 95% confidence intervals were 1.24 (1.01-1. 55) and 1.38 (1.10-1.73), respectively, for exposure to moderately hard water and soft water compared with the use of hard water. Trend analyses showed an increasing odds ratio for rectal cancer with decreasing levels of hardness in drinking water. This is an important finding for the Taiwan water industry and human health.