The aim of this study was to survey the alluvial plains of the Sea Scheldt river in Belgium for the presence of old sediment-derived soils, and to appraise the heavy metal contamination at these sites. Historically, sediments of periodical dredging operations have been disposed in the alluvial plain without concern for the potential presence of contaminants. Up to 96% of the areas that were affected by sediment disposal (ca. 120 ha) was found to be polluted by at least one of the metals Cd, Cr, Zn or Pb. Concentrations of Cd, Cr and Zn were, in 10% of the cases, higher than 14, 1400 and 2200 mg/kg DM, respectively. Based on the Flemish decree on soil sanitation, Cu and Ni concentrations were of less environmental concern on any site. The pollution in the Sea Scheldt alluvial plain nevertheless is lower than for the Upper Scheldt alluvial plain. The sediment-derived soils in the most upstream part near Ghent were used for disposal of sediments from dredging operations elsewhere. Metal concentrations were explored and both spatial and temporal trend were analysed. The pollution levels encountered warrant caution as most of the soils affected by historical dredged sediment disposal are currently in use for pasture. © 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.