This paper reports the results of the study on the performance of low-cost adsorbent such as raw rice husk (RRH) and phosphate treated rice husk (PRH) in removing the heavy metals such as lead, copper, zinc and manganese. The adsorbent materials adopted were found to be an efficient media for the removal of heavy metals in continuous mode using fixed bed column. The column studies were conducted with 10 mg/l of individual and combined metal solution with a flow rate of 20 ml/min with different bed depths such as 10, 20 and 30 cm. The breakthrough time was also found to increase from 1.3 to 3.5 h for Pb(II), 4.0 to 9.0 h for Cu(II), 12.5 to 25.4 h for Zn(II) and 3.0 to 11.3 h for Mn(II) with increase in bed height from 10 to 30 cm for PRH. Different column design parameters like depth of exchange zone, adsorption rate, adsorption capacity, etc. were calculated. It is found that the adsorption capacity and adsorption rate constant were increased and the minimum column bed depth required was reduced when the rice husk is treated with phosphate, when compared with that of RRH. © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.