Previously, the design of sewer systems has been limited to studies of their hydraulic characteristics, in particular the ability of the system to convey the maximum discharge. Greater environmental awareness has necessitated that new designs, and some existing schemes, are assessed to determine the environmental load which the scheme will deliver to any downstream component. This paper describes a laboratory programme which has been designed to elucidate the effects of manholes on the longitudinal dispersion of solutes. A laboratory system is described, which allows in situ measurements to be taken of the concentration of a fluorescent solute tracer, both up- and down-stream of a surcharged manhole junction. Results are presented from a preliminary series of studies undertaken for a single manhole geometry over a range of discharges, with varying levels of surcharge. Results are presented showing the variation of travel time, change in second moment of the distribution and of a dispersion factor with surcharge, assuming a Taylor approach and determining the dispersion factor using a ‘change in moment’ method. The effect of the stored volume within the manhole is clearly evident. The limitations and the applicability of this approach are discussed.