Historically, water quality studies have been directed toward obtaining physical and chemical measurements on toxicants occurring in the aquatic environment. At present, bioassays are increasingly used as sensitive indicators of pollutant toxicity, since they are rapid, inexpensive, applicable to a variety of toxicants and allow several acute and chronic endpoints to be assessed simultaneously. The analysis of the potential toxicity of heavy metals was conducted on two aquatic model systems, an amphibian, Pleurodeles waltl, and a freshwater planarian, Dugesia etrusca. Aluminum, chromium and cadmium were chosen since human activity has led to a sharp increase of these metals in the environment. Environmentally realistic and supra-environmental concentrations were assayed in short-term toxicity tests. The effects of these metal ions were evaluated by the analysis of both malformations and lethality in amphibian embryos and alterations to planarian regeneration. Aluminum (0.15, 0.75 and 1.5 mmol 1-1) and Cr (0.75 and 1.5 mmol 1-1) were toxic to P. waltl development and both the ions affected planarian regeneration at concentrations ranging from 0.25 to 1.5 mmol 1-1. Cadmium was highly toxic to amphibian embryos at concentrations ranging from 0.18 to 50 μmol 1-1. This metal ion was also highly toxic to planarians, but it did not significantly affect the regeneration process. The results indicate that bioassays with these two organisms are useful to assess the toxic potential of aquatic pollutants.