Groundwater, accessed using wells and municipal springs, represents the major source of potable water for the human population outside of major urban areas in northwestern Romania, a region with a long history of metal mining and metallurgy. The magnitude and spatial distribution of metal contamination in private-supply groundwater was investigated in four mining-affected river catchments in Maramureş and Satu Mare Counties through the collection of 144 groundwater samples. Bedrock geology, pH and Eh were found to be important controls on the solubility of metals in groundwater. Peak metal concentrations were found to occur in the Lapuş catchment, where metal levels exceed Dutch target and intervention values in up to 49% and 14% of samples, respectively. A 700 m wide corridor in the Lapuş catchment on either side of the main river channel was identified in which peak Cd (31 μg l(-1)), Cu (50 μg l(-1)), Pb (50 μg l(-1)) and Zn (3,000 μg l(-1)) concentrations were found to occur. Given the generally similar bedrock geologies, lower metal levels in other catchments are believed to reflect differences in the magnitude of metal loading to the local environment from both metal mining and other industrial and municipal sources. Sampling of groundwater in northwestern Romania has indicated areas of potential concern for human health, where heavy metal concentrations exceed accepted environmental quality guidelines. The presence of elevated metal levels in groundwater also has implications for the implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and achieving 'good' status for groundwater in this part of the Danube River Basin District (RBD).