The Lower Mississippi River contributes significantly to the biodiversity and ecological stability of the alluvial valley. Agricultural, industrial and municipal developments have historically impacted environmental quality of the river. Toxicity of sediment and sediment pore water was used to assess the current effects of major cities on sediment quality along the Lower Mississippi River. Composite sediment samples were collected from four sites upriver and four sites downriver of five major cities: Cairo, IL; Memphis, TN; Vicksburg, MS; Baton Rouge, LA; and New Orleans, LA. Following EPA's standard methods for acute toxicity testing of freshwater solid-phase sediment, Hyalella azteca were exposed to the sediments for 10 d with two water renewals per day. Hyalella azteca were also exposed for 96 h to pore water extracted from the sediments. After the initial tests, the animals were exposed to ultraviolet light for 12 h. Sediments were analyzed for organics (organochlorine pesticides, PCBs, organophosphate insecticides, and PAHs) and metals (Cr, Cu, Pb, Mn, Ni, Zn). With the exception of upriver from Memphis, solid-phase sediments were not toxic to H. azteca. Pore water from sediments collected upriver of Memphis showed slight toxicity. Exposure of H. azteca to ultraviolet light did not increase the toxicity of the sediment or pore-water samples, indicating a lack of PAH toxicity. Chemical analyses did not reveal any contaminant levels of concern in the sediments. Based on toxicity testing and chemical analyses, quality of sediments collected from the Lower Mississippi was good, with the exception of sites sampled upriver of Memphis.