Abstract Occupational exposure to certain particulate hexavalent chromium [Cr(VI)] compounds, such as lead chromate, has been associated with lung cancer and respiratory tract toxicity. We have previously shown that apoptosis is a major mode of death in cultured rodent cells treated with soluble sodium chromate and particulate lead chromate. Here we report the cellular and molecular effects of lead chromate and sodium chromate in normal human lung small airway epithelial (HSAE) cells, which may be one of the targets for Cr(VI)-induced lung cancer and respiratory tract toxicity. Phagocytosed lead chromate particles and intracellular lead-inclusion bodies (LIB) were observed by transmission electron microscopy and confirmed by X-ray analysis. HSAE cells exposed to lead chromate and sodium chromate underwent dose-dependent apoptosis. The cellular uptake and genomic interactions of both Cr and lead (Pb) were examined by inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICPMS) coupled with a novel, direct-injection high-efficiency nebulizer (DIHEN). Using this approach, we have quantitated a dose-dependent formation of Cr-DNA adducts and DNA-associated Pb in lead chromate–treated HSAE cells. The formation of LIB in normal human lung cells exposed to lead chromate indicates that ionic Pb is released from the particles and thus might contribute to the cell toxicity caused by lead chromate. Internalization and dissolution of lead chromate particles and the interaction of ionic Cr and Pb with DNA, may be components of the mechanism of lead chromate carcinogenesis. Lead chromate–induced apoptosis may be a mechanism to eliminate cells with chromium- and/or lead-damaged DNA.