River sediment at a disused lead–zinc mine was analysed to provide an understanding of the chemical nature of the source term for contaminated sediment exported from the site. Changes in concentration and geochemical associations of Pb and Zn were measured using aqua regia digestion and the BCR sequential extraction procedure. Sediment in the immediate vicinity of the mine was highly contaminated with Pb (max. c. 11,000 mg kg−1) and Zn (max. c. 30,000 mg kg−1), but these values declined rapidly within 1 km of the mine due to dilution and hydraulic sorting. Lead fractionation changed from being predominantly in the reducible fraction to being in the acetic acid-extractable fraction, whereas Zn was predominantly in the residual fraction. This material is transported as fine sediment in the river system. Metal concentrations and fractionation have defined the source characteristics of Pb and Zn dispersed from a disused mine and transported by fluvial processes.