Water quality monitoring programs often include toxicity testing of ambient waters with the assumption that observed toxicity is due to existing anthropogenic discharges. These assessments rarely consider the potential that water column toxicity may originate from contaminated sediments. The objectives of this study were to (a) demonstrate that contaminated sediments can cause measurable water column toxicity and (b) illustrate the utility of short-term marine toxicity tests in these assessments. Clean overlying seawater was exposed to five marine sediments, representing a wide range of contamination. To determine if sediment-associated contaminants were released into the water column in toxic concentrations, water column toxicity was measured using three marine toxicity tests: the red algal, Champis parvula, reproduction test; the echinoderm, Arbacia punctulata, fertilization and development tests; and the mysid, Mysidopsis bahia, survival, fecundity, and growth test. Significant water column toxicity was observed, with Champia exhibiting the greatest sensitivity followed by Arbacia, and Mysidopsis. The most sensitive endpoints were reproduction and development. Exposure to New Bedford Harbor (USA) sediments caused the greatest water column toxicity while the relatively uncontaminated sediments elicited no detrimental effects. The approach used in this study demonstrates that contaminated sediments do have the potential to cause water column toxicity and that marine water column toxicity tests are sufficiently sensitive to detect this toxicity. In order to determine the contribution of the various sources of contamination to total water column toxicity, the data generated using this approach and other pertinent site information (hydrodynamic models, effluent and receiving water toxicity) can be integrated into a water column toxicity model.