Humic substances are amorphous organic macromolecules responsible for the hue of natural waters. They are also known to be precursors of mutagens formed on chlorination prior to distribution of drinking water. In this study humic substances from the waters of primary streams, from major rivers, and from reservoirs were isolated and fractionated into humic acids (HA), fulvic acids (FA) and XAD-4 acids using columns of XAD-8 and of XAD-4 resins in tandem, and the fractions from the different sources were chlorinated and assayed for mutagenicity. CPMAS 13C NMR spectroscopy showed marked differences in compositions not only between HA, FA, and XAD-4 acids from the same water samples, but also between the same fractions from water samples from different watersheds. There were found to be strong similarities between the fractions from watersheds which had closely related soil types. Aromaticity was greatest in HAs, and lowest in XAD-4 acids, and carboxyl contents and aliphatic character were greatest in the XAD-4 acids. Carbon content decreased in the order HA > FA > XAD-4 acids, and amino acids and neutral sugars contents decreased in the order HA > XAD-4 > FA. Titration data complemented aspects of the NMR data, demonstrating that carboxyl content decreased in the order XAD-4 acids > FA > HA, and indicated that phenolic character was highest in HAs and lowest in the XAD-4 acids. All samples tested gave rise to bacterial mutagens on chlorination. Although the mutagenicities were of the same order of magnitude for the chlorinated humic samples from the different sources, the samples which showed the greatest number of revertant bacterial colonies were from the Thames and Trent, large rivers with humic materials from diverse environments, and relatively high in amino acid contents.