Abstract In order to monitor the quality of coastal waters that provide habitats for living marine resources, samples of sediment and biota must be analyzed to assess the degree and distribution of anthropogenic contamination. Analytical time and costs can be greatly reduced by first employing methods that screen for contaminants before selecting samples for rigorous analyses. In this paper, we review the applications of rapid high-performance liquid chromatographic (HPLC) methods to screen for aromatic compounds in sediment, bile and tissue samples. These methods have been used to assess damage to natural resources after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In addition, the bile screening method has also been used to evaluate contaminants in fish sampled for a national monitoring program. The rapid screening of sediment or bile provides an estimate of contaminant concentrations that can then be confirmed in selected samples by more complicated and expensive analyses by gas chromatography/3-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Furthermore, HPLC and GC-MS chromatographic patterns from sediment and bile can provide information about the source of contamination, e.g., crude oil, diesel fuel or pyrogenic contaminants. We also discuss the important role screening methods will play in the future in assessing the quality of aquatic habitats, the safety of seafood, and other important issues related to anthropogenic contamination.