A coprecipitation procedure has been presented prior to flame atomic absorption spectrometric determination of nickel, cadmium and lead ions in environmental samples. Analyte ions were coprecipitated by using copper hydroxide precipitate. The influences of some analytical parameters like amounts of copper, sample volume, etc., on the recoveries of the analytes were investigated. The interference of other ions was negligible. Under the optimized conditions, the detection limits (3 sigma, n = 15) of lead(II), nickel(II) and cadmium(II) were 7.0, 3.0 and 2.0 mu g/L, respectively. The proposed method has been successfully applied for the determination of traces of Ni, Cd and Pb in environmental samples like tap water. (C) 2008 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.