Concentrations of cadmium and lead in blood (BCd and BPb, respectively) are traditionally used as biomarkers of environmental exposure. We estimated the influence of genetic factors on these markers in a cohort of 61 monozygotic and 103 dizygotic twin pairs (mean age = 68 years, range = 49-86). BCd and BPb were determined by graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrophotometry. Variations in both BCd and BPb were influenced by not only environmental but also genetic factors. Interestingly, the genetic influence was considerably greater for nonsmoking women (h(2) = 65% for BCd and 58% for BPb) than for nonsmoking men (13 and 0%, respectively). The shared familial environmental (c(2)) influence for BPb was 37% for men but only 3% for women. The association between BCd and BPb could be attributed entirely to environmental factors of mutual importance for levels of the two metals. Thus, blood metal concentrations in women reflect not only exposure, as previously believed, but to a considerable extent hereditary factors possibly related to uptake and storage. Further steps should focus on identification of these genetic factors and evaluation of whether women are more susceptible to exposure to toxic metals than men.