Intestinal helminths of fish caught from freshwater and brackish water biotopes throughout Europe were analysed by electrothermal atomic absorption spectrometry for their heavy metal (Pb and Cd) levels. The metal concentrations of the parasites were compared to those of different organs (muscle, liver, intestine) of the fish hosts and to those detected in the whole bodies of the respective intermediate hosts. The three acanthocephalan species analysed contained very high amounts of Pb and Cd. The lead level of Pomphorhynchus laevis was up to 2700 times higher and the cadmium concentration was approximately 500 times higher than the muscle of chub, its host. Concurrent analysis of larval acanthocephalans in the crustacean intermediate host indicated that the bioconcentration of heavy metals by these parasites occurs only in the final host. In two species of cestodes accumulation of metals was also recorded although the degree of bioconcentration was somewhat lower. Nevertheless, Monobothrium wageneri contained 75 times more Pb and 43 times more Cd than the muscle of its host, the tench. In contrast, no bioconcentration of heavy metals was detected in the swimbladder nematode Anguillicola crassus. It contained less lead than the muscle of its final host, the eel. In one biotope the concentration of 18 elements was compared between the whole soft tissues of the zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, the parasite Acanthocephalus lucii and its final host, perch. The acanthocephalan accumulated most of the elements to considerably higher concentrations than the zebra mussel, which has been considered an effective bioindicator of heavy metals. The sessile nature of the zebra mussel may allow a better identification of small-scale local differences in environmental heavy metal contamination. However, acanthocephalan parasites will provide an ecologically-important index of average exposure of their mobile fish host to biologically-available metals within its natural range.