We have extended the application of our previously reported total oxidant scavenging capacity (TOSC) assay (Winston et al., Free Radical Biol. Med. 24, 480-493, 1998) to permit facile quantification of the absorbance capacity of antioxidants toward three potent oxidants, i.e., hydroxyl radicals, peroxyl radicals, and peroxynitrite. Respectively, these oxidants were generated by the iron plus ascorbate-driven Fenton reaction, thermal homolysis of 2,2'-azobis(2-methylpropionamidine) dihydrochloride (ABAP), and 3-morpholinosydnonimine N-ethylcarbamide (SIN-1). Each of these oxidants reacts with alpha-keto-gamma-methiolbutyric acid (KMBA), which is oxidized and yields ethylene. The antioxidant capacity of the compounds tested is quantified from their ability to inhibit ethylene formation relative to a control reaction. Assay conditions were established in which control reactions give comparable yields of ethylene with each of the oxidants studied. Thus, the relative efficiency of various antioxidants could be compared under conditions of quantitatively similar KMBA oxidizing capability by the three oxidants. Reduced glutathione was an efficient scavenger of peroxyl radicals, but scavenged peroxynitrite and hydroxyl radicals relatively poorly. Uric acid, Trolox, and ascorbic acid were comparable scavengers of peroxynitrite and peroxyl radicals. Uric acid and Trolox were approximately an order of magnitude less efficient as scavengers of hydroxyl radicals. The classical hydroxyl radical scavenging agents mannitol, dimethyl sulfoxide, and benzoic acid had much higher TOSC values with hydroxyl than with peroxyl radicals or peroxynitrite. The very different chemical reactivity toward KMBA by the SIN-1- and iron-ascorbate-generated oxidants indicates that hydroxyl radical is not a major oxidant produced by the SIN-1 system. The data show that the TOSC assay is useful and robust in distinguishing the reactivity of various oxidants and the relative capacities of antioxidants to scavenge these oxidants.