The bioavailability of fluoranthene (as a model toxicant) in freshwater sediment tests with Chironomus riparius was investigated in relation to the partitioning of the chemical between water and sediment. Effects on survival and successful development of newly hatched larvae through to adult emergence were measured over a range of sediment concentrations. Radiolabelled fluoranthene was employed to enable sediment, aqueous and tissue concentrations to be determined. A significant effect on emergence was obtained at a measured sediment concentration of 80 mg kg-1 (dry weight). The measured concentration in the overlying water was 88 μg l-1. Although effects at 170 mg kg-1 (dry weight) were more severe, the measured concentration in the overlying water was similar (89 μg l-1), probably reflecting the approach towards the solubility limit. Bioaccumulation of fluoranthene, determined by analysis of emerging adults, was approximately proportional to the sediment concentration. Although the aqueous phase concentration appeared to be the principal factor controlling bioavailability, the increasing toxicity, when water concentrations had reached a plateau, suggested that other mechanisms may also be involved. Different sediment spiking procedures resulted in broadly similar partitioning of the chemical between the sediment and the overlying water. There were only minor differences in toxicity between the procedures, two of which allowed the carrier solvent used for spiking to be eliminated before addition of the test organisms. It was concluded that, for most purposes, all four procedures were equally acceptable, and by retaining a flexible approach, even for standardised regulatory tests, spiking procedures may be tailored to the physico-chemical properties of the test material.