This is the first of a two-part review of the current state-of-the-science pertaining to the assessment and management of contaminated sediments. The goal of this review is to introduce some of the major technical and policy issues stemming from the assessment and management of contaminated sediments, highlight a number of aspects of contaminated sediment assessment and management found to be successful, and, when appropriate, address the barriers that still exist for improving contaminated sediment management. In this paper, Part I, the many key elements of an effective investigation and risk evaluation strategy are reviewed, beginning with the development of a conceptual site model (CSM) and including a discussion of some of the key factors influencing the design of sediment investigations and ecological risk assessment of sediment-bound chemicals on aquatic biota. In Part II of this paper (Apitz et al. 2005), various approaches are reviewed for evaluating sediment risk and monitoring sediment remedy effectiveness. While many of the technical and policy issues described in this review are relevant to dredged material management, the focus of this paper is on sediment assessment for environmental management.