AbstractSediments and suspended particulate matter taken from about 100 sampling sites along the River Elbe from the source to the mouth during the period 1992 and 1998 have been analyzed for the concentrations of more than 60 elements in each sample. The analytical data were subsequently processed by means of multivariate statistics in order to characterize the charge of the River Elbe with inorganic pollutants to elucidate pollution trends. Using factor analysis 18 elements were found to be enriched by human activities. By means of cluster analysis — using the 18 anthropogenically influenced elements as variables — the sampling sites were aggregated into groups having similar element distributions. Thus, the entire stretch of the River Elbe was divided into three sections of characteristic elemental pollution. Finally, the trends in anthropogenic pollution within the characteristic regions since the early nineties were assessed. It turned out that most of the anthropogenically influenced elements showed a decrease in the upper and middle parts of the river, whereas no decrease could be verified in the estuary region.