The effective removal of toxic heavy metals from environmental samples still remains a major topic of present research. Metal-chelating membranes are very promising materials as adsorbents when compared with conventional beads because they are not compressible, and they eliminate internal diffusion limitations. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the performance of a novel adsorbent, Procion Green H-4G immobilized poly(hydroxyethylmethacrylate (HEMA)/chitosan) composite membranes, for the removal of three toxic heavy metal ions, namely, Cd(II), Pb(II) and Hg(II) from aquatic systems. The Procion Green H-4G immobilized poly(hydroxyethylmethacrylate/chitosan) composite membranes were characterized by elemental analysis, scanning electron microscopy and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. The immobilized amount of the Procion Green H-4G was calculated as 0.018 +/- 0.003 mumol/cm(2) from the nitrogen and sulphur stoichiometry. The adsorption capacity of Procion Green H-4G immobilized poly(hydroxyethylmethacrylate/chitosan) composite membranes for selected heavy metal ions from aqueous media containing different amounts of these ions (30-400 mg/l) and at different pH values (2.0-6.0) was investigated. The amount of Cd(II), Pb(II) and Hg(II) adsorbed onto the membranes measured at equilibrium, increased with time during the first 45 min and then remained unchanged toward the equilibrium adsorption. The maximum amounts of heavy metal ions adsorbed were 43.60 +/- 1.74, 68.81 +/- 2.75 and 48.22 +/- 1.92 mg/g for Cd(II), Pb(II) and Hg(II), respectively. The heavy metal ion adsorption on the pHEMA/chitosan membranes (carrying no dye) were relatively low, 6.31 +/- 0.13 mg/g for Cd(II), 18.73 +/- 0.37 mg/g for Pb(II) and 18.82 +/- 0.38 mg/g for Hg(II). Competitive adsorption of the metal ions was also studied. When the metal ions competed with each other, the adsorbed amounts were 12.74 +/- 0.38 mg Cd(II)/g, 28.80 +/- 0.86 mg Pb(II)/g and 18.41 +/- 0.54 mg Hg(II)/g. Procion Green H-4G immobilized poly(hydroxyethylmethacrylate/chitosan) membranes can be regenerated by washing with a solution of nitric acid (0.01 M). The percent desorption achieved was as high as 95%. These novel membranes are suitable for repeated use for more than five adsorption/desorption cycles without any considerable loss in adsorption capacity. Adsorption equilibria were well described by Langmuir equation. It can be concluded that Procion Green H-4G immobilized poly(hydroxyethylmethacrylate/chitosan) membranes may effectively be used for the removal of Cd(II), Pb(II) and Hg(II) ions from aqueous solutions. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.