The present study addresses the key issue of linking the chemical speciation to the uptake of priority pollutants Cd(II) and Pb(II) in the wastewater treatment plant effluents, with emphasis on the role of the colloidal organic matter (EfOM). Binding of Cd(II) and Pb(II) by EfOM was examined by an ion exchange technique and flow field-flow fractionation coupled to inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry in parallel to bioassays with green microalga Chlorella kesslerii in ultrafiltrate (<1 kDa) and colloidal isolates (1 kDa to 0.45 mu m). The uptake of Cd by C. kesslerii was consistent with the speciation analysis and measured free metal ion concentrations, while Pb uptake was much greater than that expected from the speciation measurement. Better understanding of the differences in the effects of the EfOM on Cd(II) and Pb(II) uptake required to take into account the size dependence of metal binding by EfOM. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.