Human exposure to heavy metals makes it necessary to monitor these elements in the human body if the objective is to relate heavy metal exposure to adverse health effects. In Portugal, biomonitoring projects on heavy metals are being carried out on people living in the vicinity of solid waste incinerators. The projects are being developed in the ambit of two environmental health surveillance programs related to solid waste incineration facilities, one near Lisbon and the other on Madeira Island, that have the main objective of guaranteeing the safeguard of public health in relation to the potential negative impact of incineration processes on human health. These programs are the only ones in the country that integrate a systematic observation of human exposure to heavy metals as determined by the respective body burden in several population groups. Therefore, they are the only ones that are currently able to provide systematic data from Portuguese regions on the extent and pattern of human exposure to this type of pollutants. The present paper is the first of a series of three prepared papers with the objective of presenting and discussing available data. It addresses exposure to lead, cadmium and mercury as determined by their levels in blood of general population adults. Results suggest the effectiveness of source control measures in relation to both incinerators under study, similarly to what has been concluded from previous studies addressing exposure to dioxins. They also show, in relation to the baseline situation, a general significant trend for reduction of exposure to all studied heavy metals. Individuals from Lisbon seem to have a significantly higher body burden of the studied metals than those living in Madeira and, in general, metal exposure in men is significantly higher than in women, with the most relevant exception being the case of higher mercury levels in women, at the baseline and for both communities. Compared with published reference values for similar conditions, blood levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury of the present investigation seem to be relatively higher, in median terms and for extreme values, mainly in the case of cadmium and mercury. In the case of lead the differences are not so marked.