The present study was conducted to evaluate the role of ingestion through hand and mouth contamination in the absorption of lead in 25 lead-acid battery workers. Levels of personal exposure to airborne lead ranged from 0.004 to 2.58 mg/m3 [geometric mean 0.098, with 25% of samples exceeding threshold limit values (ACGIH) of 0.15 mg/m3]; the mean (SD) blood lead level was 48.9 (10.8) micrograms/dl. Mean hand lead contents increased 33-fold from preshift levels on Monday mornings (33.5 micrograms/500 ml) to midshift levels on Thursday afternoons (1121 micrograms/500 ml). Mouth lead contents increased 16-fold from 0.021 micrograms/50 ml on Mondays to 0.345 micrograms/50 ml on Thursdays. The typical Malay racial habit of feeding with bare hands and fingers without utensils (closely associated with mouth and hand lead levels on Mondays) explained the bulk of the variance in blood lead levels (40%), with mouth lead on Thursdays (closely associated with poor personal hygiene) explaining a further 10%. Air lead was not a significant explanatory variable. The implementation of a programme of reinforcing hand-washing and mouth-rinsing practices resulted in a reduction of the blood lead level by 11.5% 6 months later. These results indicate that parenteral intake from hand and mouth contamination is an important cause of lead absorption in lead-exposed workers.