The results of microbial toxicity tests are needed for the risk assessment of polluted sediments. In comparison with animals the anaerobic microorganisms are more tolerant to natural sediment conditions whereas they are more sensitive for a number of specific pollutants. Microbial toxicity tests from a literature search were classified in seven categories. Category A, B and C use polluted sediments and are applied for sediment monitoring. In category D, a pure chemical is added and the organisms and the test conditions were derived from sediment. Therefore this category can be used for setting sediment quality guidelines which protect sediment functions for the toxic effects of chemicals. In category E, organisms from a polluted site are separated from the sediment and are tested with pure chemicals. Organisms from a more polluted site can be more tolerant to a local pollutant. This is called pollution-induced community tolerance and can be used as evidence for the occurrence of toxic effects in a specific sediment. In category F pure chemicals are tested with a pure culture of microorganisms under sediment conditions. The results of category F tests can be combined with single species tests with animals and plants to obtain sediment quality guidelines sufficient for species protection. This can be compared with the sediment quality guidelines which protect sediment functions. When one of these quality guidelines is exceeded for a compound at a specific location a category E test can be used to determine whether the compound shows toxic effects in that sediment.