The anaerobic treatability of olive mill effluent was investigated using a laboratory scale upflow anaerobic sludge blanket reactor (UASBR) operated for about six months. The effects of various operating conditions including pH, feed strength and hydraulic retention time on the performance of the anaerobic treatment process were determined. In the first part of this study, the reactor was operated with feed COD concentrations from 5000 to 19,000 mg/l and a retention time of 1 day, giving organic loading rates from 5 to 18 kg COD/m(3)d. Soluble COD removal was around 75% under these conditions. In the second part of the study, feed CODs were varied from 15,000 to 22,600 mg/l while retention times ranged from 0.83 to 2 days; soluble COD removal was around 70%. A methane conversion rate of 0.35 m(3) per kg COD removed was achieved during the study. The average volatile solids (VS) concentration in the reactor had increased from 12.75 g l(-1) to 60 g l(-1) by the end of the study. Sludge volume index (SVI) determinations performed to evaluate the settling characteristics of the anaerobic sludge in the reactor indicated excellent settleability with SVI values of generally less than 20 ml g(-1). Sludge granules ranging from 3 to 8 mm in diameter were produced in the reactor. The second order substrate removal kinetics was applied by assuming that hydraulic conditions in the UASBR are approximately completely mixed and the model fitted well to the steady state operating results. (C) 1997 IAWQ. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.