Total and organic lead distribution in rainwater, seawater, sediment and marine organisms from the Eastern Adriatic coast was studied in order to elucidate the fate of lead compounds introduced to the marine environment by the use of leaded gasoline. Rainwater contained the highest level of both total and organic lead (Pb-tot = 30,000 +/- 17,000 and Pb-org = 37 +/- 28 ng L-1) and, in addition to coastal gasoline stations, represented a source of these compounds for the marine environment. Concentrations of total and organic lead were lower in seawater by factors of 150 and 15 (Pb-tot = 290 +/- 210 and Pb-org = 3.1 +/- 2.9 ng L-1), resulting in much higher percentage of organic lead (1.8 +/- 2.3 %) in seawater than in rainwater (0.1 +/- 0.1 %). In contrast to the total lead (Pb-tot = 19,800 +/- 17,000 ng g(-1)), organolead compounds were not accumulated in sediment (Pb-org = 0.2 +/- 0.2 ng g(-1)), resulting in an extremly low percentage of organic lead in sediment (0.001 +/- 0.0002 %). Mussels accumulated total and organic lead (Pb-tot = 1,150 +/- 1,440 and Pb-org = 6.1 +/- 12.1 ng g(-1)) more efficiently than fish (Pb-tot = 50 +/- 30 and Pb-org = 0.9 +/- 0.9 ng g(-1)), indicating the absence of biomagnification of lead compounds in the marine food chain. The uptake of organolead compounds into mussels and fish is discussed on the basis of tissue distribution of particular alkyllead compounds.