The Comet assay was used to compare levels of DNA damage in brown bullheads (Ameiurus nebulosus) collected from three known contaminated locations, the Cuyahoga River (OH, USA), Ashtabula River (OH, USA; both tributaries to Lake Erie, USA), and Ashumet Pond (Cape Cod, MA, USA), with brown bullheads collected from three paired reference sites, Old Woman Creek (OH, USA), Conneaut River (OH, USA; both tributaries to Lake Erie), and Great Herring Pond (mainland MA, USA), respectively. Blood was sampled from each fish, and the Comet assay was conducted on erythrocytes. The assay results demonstrate that fish from the three contaminated sites each suffered higher DNA damage compared with fish from their respective reference sites. The results also show that the genetic damage was associated with the occurrence of external lesions and deformities in fish. The Comet assay is sufficiently sensitive to detect exposure of natural fish populations to environmental levels of genotoxic contaminants. ?? 2006 SETAC.