A series of long-term Zn-contaminated soils was sampled around a galvanized pylon. The potential nitrification rate (PNR) was unaffected by the soil total Zn concentrations up to 25 mmol Zn kg−1 whereas spiking the uncontaminated control soil with ZnCl2 to identical total concentrations completely eliminated nitrification. The larger sensitivity of the PNR to spiked ZnCl2 than to the Zn added in the field was equally found when relating the PNR to the Zn concentrations in the pore water of these soils, suggesting differences in Zn tolerance of the nitrifying communities. Zinc tolerance in the long-term Zn-contaminated soil was demonstrated by showing that (i) the nitrifying community of long-term Zn-contaminated soil samples was less sensitive to Zn than that of the uncontaminated control soil when both communities were inoculated in sterile ZnCl2-contaminated soil samples, and, that (ii) addition of ZnCl2 to the long-term Zn-contaminated soil samples affected nitrification less than equal additions of ZnCl2 to uncontaminated control samples. Denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis fingerprinting of polymerase chain reaction amplified 16SrRNA gene fragments of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria showed that the community structure in uncontaminated and long-term contaminated soil samples was different and could be related to soil Zn concentrations.