Offshore oil and gas drilling often involves the use of fluids containing barium and traces of other heavy metals. These may affect the environment, but information on their toxicity to benthic biota remains scant. Here, we present results of a 10-day bioassay with the marine nematode Rhabditis (Pellioditis) marina at different loads of barium (0-10 000 ppm nominal concentrations) and cadmium (0-12 ppm) in the range of concentrations reported from drilling-impacted sediments. Barium did not affect the fitness and population development of R. (P.) marina at concentrations up to 300 ppm, but did cause a decrease in population abundance and an increase in development time from concentrations of 400 2000 ppm onwards. Increased mortality occurred at 4800 ppm Ba. For cadmium, LOEC and EC(50) values for total population abundance were 2.95 and 8.82 ppm, respectively. Cd concentrations as low as 2.40 to 2.68 caused a decrease in the abundance of adult nematodes, indicating that assays covering more generations would likely demonstrate yet more pronounced population-level effects. Our results indicate that oil and gas drilling activities may potentially have important implications for the meiobenthos through the toxicity of barium and associated metals like cadmium. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.