Colloidal organic matter from wastewater treatment plants was characterized and examined with respect to its role in metal distribution by using tangential flow ultrafiltration, liquid chromatography coupled with organic carbon and UV detectors, and an asymmetrical flow field-flow fractionation (AFlFFF) multidetection platform. Results revealed that a humic-like fraction of low aromaticity with an average molar mass ranging from 1600 to 2600 Da was the main colloidal component. High molar mass fractions (HMM), with molar mass ranges between 20 and 200 kDa, were present in lower proportions. Ag, Cd, Cu, Cr, Mn and Zn were found mainly in the dissolved phase (<0.45 mu m) and their distribution between colloidal and truly dissolved fractions was strongly influenced by the distribution of dissolved organic carbon. AFlFFF coupled to ICP-MS showed that Ag, Cd, Cu, Cr, Mn and Zn associate to the low molar mass fraction of the colloidal pool, whereas Al, Fe and Pb were equally bound to low and high molar mass fractions. (C) 2009 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.