The Wadden Sea receives contaminants from various sources and via various transport routes. The contaminants described in this overview are various metals (Cd, Cu, Hg, Pb and Zn) and various organic contaminants (polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and lindane (hexachlorocyclohexane, γ-HCH)). In addition, information is presented about other and emerging contaminants such as antifouling biocides (e.g. TBT and Irgarol), brominated flame retardants (BFRs), poly- and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs).Special attention is given to biogeochemical processes that contribute to the mobilization of contaminants in the surface sediments of the Wadden Sea. Finally, the effects on organisms of contaminants are reviewed and discussed.The main source of contaminants in the Wadden Sea are the rivers Rhine (via de Dutch coastal zone), Elbe and Weser. The Wadden Sea is not a sink for contaminants and adsorbed contaminants are transported from east to west. The surface sediments of the Wadden Sea are an important source for contaminants to the water above. The input and concentration of most contaminants have significantly decreased in water, sediments, organisms (e.g., mussel, flounder and bird eggs) in various parts of the Wadden Sea in the last three decades. Remarkably, the Cd concentration in mussels is increasing the last decades.In recent decades, the effects of contaminants on organisms (e.g., flounder, seal) have fallen markedly. Most of the affected populations have recovered, except for TBT induced effects in snails. Little is known about the concentration and effects of most emerging contaminants and the complex environmental mixtures of contaminants.It is recommended to install an international coordinated monitoring programme for contaminants and their effects in the whole Wadden Sea and to identify the chemical contaminants that really cause the effect. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.