A river embankment sediment beneath a road bridge in South Australia had been surveyed on a previous occasion to a depth of 10 cm and found to contain high levels of copper, lead and zinc deposited during previous lead and zinc-based primer paint stripping operations prior to repainting the bridge. Since the river embankment is geologically different from the surrounding non-embankment soils, and a sufficient distance from the bridge along the river embankment could not be traversed, the geological background Cu, Pb and Zn fraction was established initially using a solid phase sequential extraction (SPSE) procedure. Assessment of the degree of contamination and extent of vertical mobility was then established. Copper was a minor contaminant and present predominantly as the geological background species. Lead was partitioned evenly between the oxalate soluble fraction and residual fraction to a depth of 30 cm with a decrease in total Pb concentration from 497 to 141 mg Pb kg-1 while Zn was predominantly in the oxalate soluble fraction to a depth of 15cm with a decrease in concentration from 1013 to 150 mg Zn kg-1. The reduced rate of nitrification and the lower total concentration of NO3--N together with the higher respiratory quotient, combined with the lower microbial quotient, are indicative of microbial stress due to heavy metal toxicity. In the case of Pb and Zn paint stripping residues, these changes in indicators of microbial health are possibly the result of the greater abundance and hence possible bioavailabilty of organo- and chloro-Pb compared to organo- and chloro-Zn complexes.