The Pb(II) and Cu(II) biosorption characteristics of Aspergillus flavus fungal biomass were examined as a function of initial pH, contact time and initial metal ion concentration. Heat inactivated (killed) biomass was used in the determination of optimum conditions before investigating the performance of pretreated biosorbent. The maximum biosorption values were found to be 13.46 ± 0.99 mg/g for Pb(II) and 10.82 ± 1.46 mg/g for Cu(II) at pH 5.0 ± 0.1 with an equilibrium time of 2 h. Detergent, sodium hydroxide and dimethyl sulfoxide pretreatments enhanced the biosorption capacity of biomass in comparison with the heat inactivated biomass. The biosorption data obtained under the optimum conditions were well described by the Freundlich isotherm model. Competitive biosorption of Pb(II) and Cu(II) ions was also investigated to determine the selectivity of the biomass. The results indicated that A. flavus is a suitable biosorbent for the removal of Pb(II) and Cu(II) ions from aqueous solution. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.