Serum lead, whole blood lead, and lead in both tibia and calcaneus were measured in each of 49 active lead workers. Serum lead correlated more strongly with both in vivo bone lead measurements than did whole blood lead. The ratio of serum lead to whole blood lead varied from 0.8% to 2.5% and showed a positive correlation with tibia, and an even stronger correlation with calcaneus lead. This implies that lead released from bone (endogenous exposure) results in a higher proportion of whole blood lead being in serum than is the case for exogenous exposure. This observation needs to be confirmed, and the relationships amongst the parameters must be studied further, particularly in former or retired lead workers. If confirmed, since at least a portion of lead in serum is readily diffusible and thus toxicologically more immediately significant than lead bound to red cells, the health implications of endogenous exposure may have to be reassessed. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.