The Canadian government and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) are currently developing generic soil quality criteria that would be considered applicable to all sites, either as levels for screening analysis or, under some circumstances, as ultimate remediation goals. The draft Canadian criteria, currently under revision, are based on protection of both human and ecological health, while the draft U.S. EPA values are intended to be protective of residential exposures. In this analysis, we compare and contrast the technical basis for the generic criteria developed by both governments, with emphasis on cadmium and pentachlorophenol. Soil criteria for cadmium and pentachlorophenol are expected to be more conservative in Canada than in the U.S. if groundwater protection is not a concern. The pattern is reversed if groundwater is a concern. Therefore, the cost of achieving approximately the same level of health protection could be dramatically different in the two countries for remediating soil containing cadmium or pentachlorophenol.