The study is based on physicochemical parameters (pH, DO, and salinity) and dissolved trace elements (Fe, Mn, Cr, Cu, Ni, Co, Pb, Zn, and Cd) of Uppanar River water (RW) and surface and bottom coastal waters (CW) off Cuddalore, southeast coast of India in 56 samples collected during 2001. High concentration of Fe and Mn in RW and CW indicates enrichment above the normal level. Physicochemical parameters do not exhibit significant relationship with trace metals. Enrichment of Pb is due to external input and excess level of Cu, Pb, Zn in RW and Cr, Cu, Ni, Pb in CW is identified. Fe-Mn oxides are the chief scavengers of trace elements in both the aquatic environments and it is supported by geochemical, statistical and comparative studies. The results signify that industrial growth has affected the aquatic environments and regular monitoring will help to adopt stringent pollution control measures for better management of the aquatic region. © 2007 Springer-Verlag.