A field survey was conducted to investigate the metal contamination in soils and vegetables, and to evaluate the possible health risks to local population through foodchain transfer near a smelter in Nanning, southern China. Contamination levels in soils and vegetables with cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), zinc (Zn) and copper (Cu) were measured, and transfer factors (TF) from soils to vegetable plants and its health risk (risk index, RI) were calculated accordingly. Results showed that both soils and vegetables from villages 1 and 2 (V1 and V2, 1500 m and 500 m from the smelter) were heavily contaminated, compared to a village 50 km from the smelter. Geometric mean of Cd and Pb concentrations in vegetables for V1 and V2, respectively, were 0.15 and 0.24 mg Cd kg(-1) and 0.45 and 0.38 mg Pb kg(-1) (on fresh weight basis). Oral intake of Cd and Pb through vegetables poses high health risk to local residents. Risk indices for V1 and V2, respectively, were 3.87 and 7.42 for Cd, and 1.44 and 13.5 for Pb. The complexity of metal contamination and their health risks are also discussed.