Abstract The distribution of ammonium citrate-leachable lead, zinc and cadmium among size fractions in stream sediments is strongly influenced by the presence of hydrous Mn-Fe oxides in the form of coatings on sediment grains. Distribution curves showing leachable metals as a function of particle size are given for eight samples from streams in New York State. These show certain features in common; in particular two concentrations of metals, one in the finest fractions, and a second peak in the coarse sand and gravel fraction. The latter can be explained as a result of the increasing prevalence and thickness of oxide coatings with increasing particle size, with the oxides serving as collectors for the heavy metals. The distribution of Zn and Cd in most of the samples closely parallels that of Mn; the distribution of Pb is less regular and appears to be related to Fe in some samples and Mn in others. The concentration of metals in the coarse fractions due to oxide coatings, combined with the common occurrence of oxide deposition in streams of glaciated regions, raises the possibility of using coarse materials for geochemical surveys and environmental heavy-metal studies.