The study described in this article aimed to determine if measurable levels of mercury, lead, and cadmium are detected in the umbilical cord blood specimens collected in a community hospital in Rhode Island and if prenatal exposure correlates with prematurity or fetal growth indicators. Total mercury, lead, and cadmium concentrations were measured in 538 specimens of cord blood and correlated with demographic characteristics and pregnancy outcomes for each mother-infant pair. Lead concentrations determined in the cord blood of Rhode Island women (geometric mean 0.99 microg/dL) were similar to those reported in U.S. biomonitoring studies. The overall geometric mean for mercury concentration (0.52 microg/L) was slightly lower than in other comparable studies. Cadmium concentrations were generally below the limit of detection. A statistically significant correlation was detected between elevated mercury concentrations and racial and ethnic characteristics of the study participants. Non-Hispanic African-American mothers were 9.6 times more likely to have a mercury concentration > or = 5.8 microg/L compared to women of other racial/ethnic backgrounds. No association was detected between elevated mercury levels and adverse birth outcomes.