Abstract The aim of this investigation was to assess the potential of activated sludge for the remediation of sulphur-rich wastewaters. A pilot-scale activated sludge plant was acclimatised to a low load of sulphide and operated as a flow-through unit. Additional sludge samples from different full-scale plants were compared with the acclimatised and unacclimatised sludges using batch absorption tests. The effects of sludge source and acclimatisation on the ability of the sludge to biodegrade high loads of sulphide were evaluated. Acclimatisation to low-sulphide concentrations enabled the sludge to degrade subsequent high loads which were toxic to unacclimatised sludge. Acclimatisation was seen to be an effect of selection pressure on the biomass, suggesting that the treatment capability of activated sludge will develop after acclimation, indicating potential for treatment of acid mine drainage (AMD) by a standard wastewater treatment process. Existing options for biological treatment of AMD are described and the potential of activated sludge treatment for AMD discussed in comparison with existing technologies.