Availability, mobility, (phyto)toxicity and potential risk of contaminants is strongly affected by the manner of appearance of elements, the so-called speciation. Operational fractionation methods like sequential extractions have been applied for a long time to determine the solid phase speciation of heavy metals since direct determination of specific chemical compounds can not always be easily achieved. The three-step sequential extraction scheme recommended by the BCR and two extraction schemes based on the phosphorus-like protocol proposed by Manful (1992, Occurrence and Ecochemical Behaviours of Arsenic in a Goldsmelter Impacted Area in Ghana, PhD dissertation, at the RUG) were applied to four standard reference materials (SRM) and to a batch of samples from industrially contaminated sites, heavily contaminated with arsenic and heavy metals. The SRM 2710 (Montana soil) was found to be the most useful reference material for metal (Mn, Cu, Zn, As, Cd and Pb) fractionation using the BCR sequential extraction procedure. Two sequential extraction schemes were developed and compared for arsenic with the aim to establish a better fractionation and recovery rate than the BCR-scheme for this element in the SRM samples. The major part of arsenic was released from the heavily contaminated samples after NaOH-extraction. Inferior extraction variability and recovery in the heavily contaminated samples compared to SRMs could be mainly contributed to subsample heterogeneity. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.