Dietary calcium is well known to decrease gastrointestinal lead absorption and thereby reduce the risk for lead poisoning. Because children in economically deprived urban centers are especially likely to have excessive lead exposure, we surveyed dietary calcium intakes of 314 children from the greater Newark, New Jersey, area. The areas of Newark and adjacent communities studied had been previously identified as containing significant sources of environmental lead by geographic information systems technology. An abbreviated National Cancer Institute Health Habits and History Questionnaire, modified to focus on foods high in calcium, was used to determine dietary calcium. Calcium intakes were then compared to the new Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) guidelines. The respondents were primarily the parents of African-American and Hispanic children ranging in age from 1 to 8 years, with a mean age of 3.5 years. The most recent blood lead concentration was 11.4 +/- 0.8 microg/dL (mean +/- standard error), and 48.6% had concentrations at or above the current guideline of 10 microg/dL. Quintiles of calcium intake were: 221 +/- 13; 488 +/- 9; 720 +/- 6; 885 +/- 6; and 1,389 +/- 49 mg/day. Fifty-five of 175 (31.4%) children aged 1-3 years had calcium intakes below the DRI, as did 82 of 139 (59.0%) children aged 4-8 years. The percentage of mothers reporting lactose intolerance in their children was 2.5%. The observation that the children in the highest quintile easily exceeded the DRIs for calcium suggests that urban parents who include dairy foods in their childrens' meals can provide a diet that meets the DRI guidelines. Children in the lowest quintiles are at risk of increased absorption of the environmental lead to which they are inevitably exposed, as well as other problems associated with a low intake of dietary calcium. The data suggest that both lead exposure and low dietary calcium continue to pose significant health risks to urban minority children.