The common shallow-water sea urchin Lytechinus variegatus is capable of surviving inorganic phosphate exposures as high as 3.2 mg L -1 and organic phosphate exposures of 1000 mg L -1. Nonetheless, chronic exposure to low, medium, and high-sublethal concentrations of organic phosphate inhibits the muscle enzyme acetyl cholinesterase (AChE), responsible for the break down of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, as well as inhibiting contractions in the muscles associated with the Aristotle's lantern. AChE activity, measured in both a static enzyme assay and by vesicular staining, displayed concentration-dependent declines of activity in individuals maintained in organic phosphate for 4 weeks. The activity of AChE was not adversely affected by exposure to inorganic phosphate or seawater controls over the same time period. Maximum force of muscle contraction and rates of muscle contraction and relaxation also decreased with chronic exposure to increasing concentrations of organic phosphate. Chronic exposure to inorganic phosphates elicited no response except at the highest concentration, where the maximum force of muscular contraction increased compared to controls. These findings indicate that shallow-water populations of Lytechinus variegatus subjected to organic phosphate pollutants may display impaired muscular activity that is potentially related to the inhibition of the muscle relaxant enzyme AChE, and subsequently muscular overstimulation, and fatigue. © 2010 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.