In the present communication, we report a comparative study of Cr (VI) removal using biologically synthesized nano zero valent iron (BS-nZVI) and chemically synthesized nZVI (CS-nZVI), both immobilized in calcium alginate beads. The parameters like initial Cr (VI) concentration, nZVI concentration, and the contact time for Cr (VI) removal were optimized based on Box–Behnken design (BBD) by response surface modeling at a constant pH 7. Under the optimized conditions (concentration of nZVI = 1000 mg L−1, contact time = ∼80 min, and initial concentration of Cr (VI) = 10 mg L−1), the Cr (VI) removal by the immobilized BS-nZVI and CS-nZVI alginate beads was 80.04 and 81.08 %, respectively. The adsorption of Cr (VI) onto the surface of alginate beads was confirmed by scanning electron microscopy with energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM-EDX), Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR), and Brunauer–Emmett–Teller (BET) analysis. The applicability of the process using both the sorbents was successfully test medium Cr (VI) spiked environmental water samples. In order to assess the ecotoxic effects of nZVI, the decline in cell viability, generation of intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS), cell membrane damage, and biouptake was studied at 1000 mg L−1 concentration, with five indigenous bacterial isolates from chromium-contaminated lake sediments and their consortium. © 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.