The relationship between environmental variables, community composition and the sensitivity of periphyton on artificial substrata to the herbicide atrazine (EC50 values obtained by concentration-effect curves of photosynthesis to atrazine) was studied for 20 stream and river sites on a latitudinal across Europe (Sweden, The Netherlands, Spain). Sensitivity to atrazine was higher in Swedish than in the Spanish or Dutch sites. Direct gradient analyses were used to relate diatom taxa and algal groups with environmental variables. A first redundancy analysis (RDA) based on diatom taxa showed a pollution gradient (atrazine and nutrient concentration) associated to diatom taxa that are indicators of different degrees of pollution. A second RDA based on algal groups showed that diatom-dominated communities corresponded both to sites at higher altitudes and less industrialized areas and to sites with higher atrazine concentration; Cyanobacteria were the most common in industrial areas, whereas Chlorophyceae dominated in sites with high water temperature and alkalinity. Linear regression analyses were applied to find the relationship between the ordination axes obtained and the EC50 values. First axes of both RDA showed significant or marginally significant relationship with atrazine sensitivity. Regression analyses for the Spanish sites indicated that the sensitivity to atrazine was related with light conditions (EC50 was positively correlated with light) and the percentage of different algal groups (EC50 was positively correlated with the percentage of diatoms and negatively correlated with the percentage of green algae). The results indicating that differences in sensitivity are related to environmental variables such as light, nutrients or atrazine concentration, permitted us to identify biological indicators of sensitivity to atrazine in lotic systems: Bacillariophyceae-dominated periphyton communities were more tolerant than Chlorophyceae and Chrysophyceae-dominated communities. In addition, diatom taxa found to be tolerant to atrazine in this study have been considered in the literature to be tolerant to organic pollution.