A rapid biological method for the determination of the bioavailability of naphthalene was developed and its value as an alternative to extraction-based chemical approaches demonstrated. Genetically engineered whole-cell biosensors are used to determine bioavailable naphthalene and their responses compared with results from Tenax extraction and chemical analysis. Results show a 1:1 correlation between biosensor results and chemical analyses for naphthalene-contaminated model materials and sediments, but the biosensor assay is much faster. This work demonstrates that biosensor technology can perform as well as standard chemical methods, though with some advantages including the inherent biological relevance of the response, rapid response time, and potential for field deployment. A survey of results from this work and the literature shows that bioavailability under non-equilibrium conditions nonetheless correlates well with K-oc or K-d. A rationale is provided wherein chemical resistance is speculated to be operative. (C) 2008 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.