The Tinto and Odiel rivers drain 100 km from the Rio Tinto sulphide mining district, and join at a 20-km long estuary entering the Atlantic Ocean. A reconnaissance study of heavy metal anomalies in channel sand and overbank mud of the river and estuary by semi-quantitative emission dc-arc spectrographic analysis shows the following upstream to downstream ranges in ppm (??g g-1): As 3,000 to <200, Cd 30 to <0.1, Cu 1,500 to 10, Pb 2,000 to <10, Sb 3000 to <150, and Zn 3,000 to <200. Organic-rich (1.3-2.6% total organic carbon, TOC), sandysilty overbank clay has been analyzed to represent suspended load materials. The high content of heavy metals in the overbank clay throughout the river and estuary systems indicates the importance of suspended sediment transport for dispersing heavy metals from natural erosion and anthropogenic mining activities of the sulfide deposit. The organic-poor (0.21-0.37% TOC) river bed sand has been analyzed to represent bedload transport of naturally-occurring sulfide minerals. The sand has high concentrations of metals upstream but these decrease an order of magnitude in the lower estuary. Although heavy metal contamination of estuary mouth beach sand has been diluted to background levels estuary mud exhibits increased contamination apparently related to finer grain size, higher organic carbon content, precipitation of river-borne dissolved solids, and input of anthropogenic heavy metals from industrial sources. The contaminated estuary mud disperses to the inner shelf mud belt and offshore suspended sediment, which exhibit metal anomalies from natural erosion and mining of upstream Rio Tinto sulphide lode sources (Pb, Cu, Zn) and industrial activities within the estuary (Fe, Cr, Ti). Because heavy metal contamination of Tinto-Odiel river sediment reaches or exceeds the highest levels encountered in other river sediments of Spain and Europe, a detailed analysis of metals in water and suspended sediment throughout the system, and epidemiological analysis of heavy metal effects in humans is appropriate. ?? 1993 Estuarine Research Federation.