Microorganisms from Hudson River sediments reductively dechlorinated most polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Aroclor 1242 under anaerobic conditions, thus demonstrating PCB dechlorination by anaerobic bacteria in the laboratory. The most rapid dechlorination was observed at the highest PCB concentration used; at 700 parts per million Aroclor, 53 percent of the total chlorine was removed in 16 weeks, and the proportion of mono- and dichlorobiphenyls increased from 9 to 88 percent. Dechlorination occurred primarily from the meta and para positions; congeners that were substituted only in the ortho position (or positions) accumulated. These dechlorination products are both less toxic and more readily degraded by aerobic bacteria. These results indicate that reductive dechlorination may be an important environmental fate of PCBs, and suggest that a sequential anaerobic-aerobic biological treatment system for PCBs may be feasible.