For both type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus, the rates have been increasing in the United States and elsewhere; rates vary widely by country, and genetic factors account for less than half of new cases. These observations suggest environmental factors cause both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Occupational exposures have been associated with increased risk of diabetes. In addition, recent data suggest that toxic substances in the environment, other than infectious agents or exposures that stimulate an immune response, are associated with the occurrence of these diseases. We reviewed the epidemiologic data that addressed whether environmental contaminants might cause type 1 or type 2 diabetes. For type 1 diabetes, higher intake of nitrates, nitrites, and N-nitroso compounds, as well as higher serum levels of polychlorinated biphenyls have been associated with increased risk. Overall, however, the data were limited or inconsistent. With respect to type 2 diabetes, data on arsenic and 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin relative to risk were suggestive of a direct association but were inconclusive. The occupational data suggested that more data on exposure to N-nitroso compounds, arsenic, dioxins, talc, and straight oil machining fluids in relation to diabetes would be useful. Although environmental factors other than contaminants may account for the majority of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, the etiologic role of several contaminants and occupational exposures deserves further study.