Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are persistent and hazardous environmental contaminants, which tend to bioaccumulate in the food chain. In the present report the long-term effect of low-level dietary PCB concentrations was studied on performance, egg quality, apparent PCB digestibility, apparent PCB retention and PCB accumulation in laying hens that were fed experimental diets for 41 weeks. The tested dietary concentrations of supplemented PCBs, based on the sum of seven reference congeners, were 0, 1.5 and 6 ng/g. PCB ingestion did not significantly affect performance or egg quality parameters. The PCB concentration in egg yolk reached a nearly constant level after approximately 40 and 70 days of consumption of the diets containing 1.5 and 6 ng PCBs/g, respectively. Apparent faecal PCB digestibility and apparent retention were not influenced by dietary levels of added fat varying between 1.5% and 4.5%, but were significantly higher in hens fed diets containing added PCBs. Moreover, apparent PCB digestibility and retention increased significantly with age. Among the seven individual PCB congeners, no systematically significant differences with regard to apparent faecal digestibility were observed throughout the experiment. Accumulation of PCBs in the fat fraction of egg yolk, abdominal adipose tissue and thigh and breast muscle greatly depended upon PCB intake, but never exceeded the maximally allowed concentration of 200 ng/g. As PCBs 52 and 10 1 were hardly found in egg yolks and hen tissues, it was concluded that both congeners were greatly metabolised. Comparison of relative contents of individual PCB congeners revealed that PCBs 118, 138 and 153 were preferentially incorporated in yolk and body tissues. (c) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.