There are many problems with current environmental sampling and analysis programs. Foremost among these problems is the need to collect many samples in order to obtain the desired accuracy of the characteristics of interest. Other concerns involve inadvertent changes that may affect the sample characteristics between sample collection and analysis. The high cost of analyzing trace levels of organic and metallic toxicants is also restrictive. This paper summarizes sampling and analytical needs, based on current limitations of procedures and instrumentation, that may possibly overcome using laser-based procedures. These needs include current shortcomings in water and wastewater analyses, specifically problems with sample collection, preparation, and analysis. The use of inexpensive and fast instrumentation, especially if the procedures minimize sample preparation and can be used in-situ, will vastly improve environmental research and characterization efforts by enabling greatly increased sample sizes with better spatial and temporal resolution. Current research being jointly conducted by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Department of Physics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Laboratory of Laser Spectroscopy of Solids at the General Physics Institute of the Russian Academia of Science, and Alabama Laser Technologies, is demonstrating he use of several configurations of laser-based instruments to cost- effectively analyze very low levels of toxicants. This National Science Foundation sponsored research effort has recently demonstrated the detection of copper and lead at low (mu) g/L levels using atomic laser fluorescence using a tunable color center laser, spectrometer, intensified TE- cooled CCD camera, and atomizing furnace. Fluorescence/Raman spectroscopic instrumentation with a He-Ne and/or Alexandrite laser, portable spectrograph and CCD camera has also been developed for qualitative characterization of water and solid waste samples.