We investigated whether there was an association between renal function and cadmium pollution in areas with different exposures. Cadmium was measured in the soil and in vegetables in 10 districts, 6 of which were close to zinc smelters; and renal function and the concentrations of metals in blood and urine were measured in 703 randomly selected residents. 6 polluted areas, compared with 4 others showed higher cadmium concentrations in the soil (4.86 vs 0.81 ppm) and in locally grown vegetables, such as celery (2.43 vs 0.68 ppm) and beans (0.42 vs 0.15 ppm). Residents in polluted areas had higher urinary cadmium (10.5 vs 7.9 nmol/24 hours) and copper (0.16 vs 0.14 mumol/24 hours); higher serum creatinine (100 vs 97 mumol/L) urinary excretions of beta 2-microglobulin (109 vs 95 micrograms/24 hours), retinol-binding-protein (136 vs 118 micrograms/24 hours), and N-acetyl-beta-glucosaminidase (1.78 vs 1.38 U/24 hours). Serum zinc (12.2 vs 12.6 mumol/L) and creatinine clearance (87 vs 92 mL/min) were reduced in the 6 polluted areas. In all 10 districts, cadmium in the soil was positively correlated with cadmium in celery (r = 0.77), in beans (r = 0.67), and in residents' urine (r = 0.76). The creatinine clearance was inversely correlated with cadmium in soil (r = -0.78), in celery (r = -0.90), and in beans (r = -0.70). Past emissions from zinc smelters gave rise to contamination of the environment with cadmium, which gets into the food chain and has the potential to cause renal dysfunction and alterations in zinc and copper homeostasis.