The mechanisms by which nitrilotriacetic acid (NTA) stimulated Fe(III) reduction in sediments from a petroleum-contaminated aquifer were investigated in order to gain insight into how added Fe(III) chelators stimulate the activity of hydrocarbon-degrading, Fe(III)-reducing microorganisms in these sediments, and how naturally occurring Fe(III) chelators might promote Fe(III) reduction in aquatic sediments. NTA solubilized Fe(III) from the aquifer sediments. NTA stimulation of microbial Fe(III) reduction did not appear to be the result of making calcium, magnesium, potassium, or trace metals more available to the microorganisms. Stimulation of Fe(III) reduction could not be attributed to NTA serving as a source of carbon or fixed nitrogen for Fe(III)-reducing bacteria as NTA was not degraded in the sediments. Studies with the Fe(III)-reducing microorganism, Geobacter metallireducens, and pure Fe(III)-oxide forms, demonstrated that NTA stimulated the reduction of a variety of Fe(III) forms, including highly crystalline Fe(III)-oxides such as goethite and hematite. The results suggest that NTA solubilization of insoluble Fe(III)-oxide is an important mechanism for the stimulation of Fe(III) reduction by NTA in aquifer sediments.