Vehicle pollution is an increasing problem in the industrial world. Aromatic nitro compounds comprise a significant portion of the threat. In this review, the class includes nitro derivatives of benzene, biphenyls, naphthalenes, benzanthrone and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, plus nitroheteroaromatic compounds. The numerous toxic manifestations are discussed. An appreciable number of drugs incorporate the nitroaromatic structure. The mechanistic aspects of both toxicity and therapy are addressed in the context of a unifying mechanism involving electron transfer, reactive oxygen species, oxidative stress and antioxidants. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.