Population differences were measured in the tolerance of Littorina saxatilis from sites around the Isle of Man, to acute exposure to zinc, lead, copper and cadmium. Animals from a site influenced by disused mine run-off in Laxey estuary (high zinc) were compared with animals from less contaminated estuaries (Peel-high lead, but lower zinc), and the relatively uncontaminated Castletown and Ramsey estuaries, plus the open coast near Derbyhaven. Median lethal times (LT50) were estimated for each test concentration (5, 10, 20 mg l−1 Zn; 5, 10 mg l−1 Pb; 0·5, 1·0, 2·0 mg l−1 Cu and Cd) except for those that did not produce sufficient mortalities. Individuals from Laxey estuary showed significantly higher tolerances to zinc (10 mg l−1) and lead (5 mg l−1) than animals from the unpolluted sites. No co-tolerance to copper or cadmium was apparent. Population tolerance to zinc was correlated with reduced accumulation rates. Lead tolerance may result from the ability of the tolerant individuals to sequester the metal and detoxify it in their tissues; the littorinids from Laxey had significantly higher rates of lead accumulation.