Polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and -furans (PCDFs) are ubiquitous in the environment. This paper estimates the present UK environmental loading of PCDD/Fs in soils, vegetation, air, water and sediments. Greater than 95% of the estimated total PCDD/F loading of 5.7 t in the UK environment is present in surface soils. Annual emissions from known primary sources of PCDDs and PCDFs are estimated. The most important of these include: municipal waste incinerator stack emissions (10.9 kg ΣPCDD/F per annum); industrial (7.7 kg/year) and domestic (5.1 kg/year) combustion of coal; clinical waste incinerators (1.7 kg/year); volatilization from chlorophenol-treated substrates (1.7 kg/year) and combustion of leaded petrol by motor vehicles (0.7 kg/year). These sources are generally easy to define and reasonably reliable national estimates can be obtained. More difficult to quantify are secondary releases from the large UK stock of pentachlorophenol (PCP) and PCP-treated products, which may represent quantitatively one of the most important sources of total PCDD/Fs to the environment. Estimates of homologue-specific emissions indicate that combustion processes represent a far more significant source of tetra and penta CDD/Fs than do chlorophenols, which in turn constitute a greater source of hepta- and octachlorinated congeners. Direct emission of PCDD/Fs into the atmosphere from combustion processes facilitates their atmospheric transport to remote locations. This, coupled with the diffuse nature of combustion processes, means that the effects of PCDD/F contamination originating from anthropogenic combustion are more widespread than those from the use and disposal of chlorophenols. Contamination from chlorophenols will be more localised, owing to the insignificance of direct atmospheric release pathways for this source. Although there is reasonable agreement between the estimated current annual flux and the present UK environmental loading of PCDDs and PCDFs, a large discrepancy exists between the sum of the annual contributions from primary sources and this annual flux. Whilst the existence of an as yet unidentified source or sources or gross underestimates of known sources cannot be excluded, it is proposed that much of this discrepancy may be accounted for by secondary releases from the use and disposal of chlorophenols and the long-range transport, continued remobilisation and subsequent redeposition of PCDDs and PCDFs already present in the environment. Despite limited evidence for a modest decline in levels of PCDDs and PCDFs in some environmental compartments over the last 20 years, the environmental persistence of these chemicals means that they will remain in the UK environment for the foreseeable future despite recent action to curb primary emissions.