OBJECTIVES: The objective of this health assessment is to evaluate the health risks that may result from exposure to abandoned mine tailings in Gyeongsangbuk-do. The tailings are remnants from an earlier flotation mill and mining operation that was in business from the early 1930's until 1970. METHODS: The soil, stream water, and drinking water in and around three abandoned mine areas, Soochul, Gumjang, Darock, and three control areas located in Gyeongsangbuk-do were analyzed for level of Cd, Pb, Cu, As, and Hg. Potential chronic health effects were evaluated by interview and medical examination. RESULTS: Some soil and stream samples exceeded the Korean standard for soil contamination in farmland and the Korean standard of water contamination in streams respectively. Blood lead (5.37 microgram/dl) and urine cadmium (2.79 microgram/g Cr) levels of the residents in the vicinity of the abandoned mine sites were significantly higher than of the residents in the control areas (blood lead, 4.34 microgram/dl; urine cadmium, 1.62 microgram/g Cr). There were no significant differences between the mining and control areas in terms of blood pressure, Hb, BUN, creatinine, SGOT, SGPT, fasting blood sugar, and the prevalence of potential chronic diseases. CONCLUSIONS: The results of the assessment suggested that the three abandoned mine sites do not pose an apparent health risk to nearby residents. Nevertheless, the elevated blood lead and urine cadmium levels in the residents of the abandoned mine site suggested that it might be an important source of heavy metals contamination. Therefore, a nationwide evaluation program is needed to assess the potential health risks of residents living in the vicinity of abandoned mine sites.