The toxicity that contaminated sediments may introduce into the water column has not been measured extensively. In order to quantify this potential toxicity, the seawater overlying two uncontaminated and three contaminated marine sediments was evaluated in the laboratory with the sea urchin Arbacia punctulata fertilization test. Concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and copper, as representative contaminants, were also measured. To characterize sources of toxicity, samples were chemically manipulated using reversed-phase chromatography, cation exchange, and chelation. Water column toxicity and contaminant concentrations were higher in the suspended exposures than in bedded exposures. Interstitial water toxicity and contaminant concentrations were generally greater than either bedded or suspended exposures. Chemical manipulation indicated that the observed toxicity in water column exposures was probably caused by metallic and/or nonionic organic contaminants. Conversely, manipulation of interstitial waters did not result in significantly reduced toxicity, suggesting that other toxicants such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide may be active.