The effects of heavy metals in diverse substrate-amended river sediments were studied. Cd/sup 2 +/, Pb/sup 2 +/ and Zn/sup 2 +/ generally had a marked inhibitory effect on the synthesis of amylase, cellulase and urease, on numbers of substrate-hydrolysing bacteria, in all sediments studied. Inhibition increased with increasing metal concentration, and amylase was particularly sensitive. Pb/sup 2 +/ generally had the least effect. We conclude that enzyme synthesis measurements are useful in determining the effects of heavy metals on the degradation of organic pollutants in river sediments.