Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) input–output balance studies were performed on five male volunteers, aged between 24 and 30, for periods of 8–14 days in 1998. Dietary exposure was quantified by the duplicate meals method and varied between 220 and 460 ng of ∑PCB (sum of 20 congeners) per day for each of the five individuals over the study period. Dietary intake was dominated by congeners 118, 138, 153 and 180. Average faecal outputs for the five volunteers were 50–290 ng of ∑PCB (sum of 20 congeners) per day for each of the five individuals over the same period and was dominated by the same four congeners. Whilst the total PCB fluxes were therefore into the body (i.e., accumulation), important differences were noted for different individual congeners. PCBs 44, 47, 49, 52, 60, 66, 101, 105, 110, 118, 149, 151 and 183 all showed net absorption for all five volunteers. Some congeners showed a net absorption in some of the individuals but net excretion in others, as seen by other workers. These congeners (PCBs 138, 153, 180, 187 and 194) are all higher chlorinated congeners and lack meta-para-vicinal hydrogen atoms. There were differences in the net absorption/excretion between individuals, which appeared to be a function of body fat index (BFI). The volunteers with the lowest BFIs showed net excretion for the greatest number of congeners, whilst the individual with the highest BFI was a net absorber of all the congeners studied. The problems in determining and interpreting absorption efficiency values for use in quantitative exposure assessments are discussed. Various factors that influence net absorption of PCBs and other persistent organic pollutants are identified. These include compound properties (including susceptibility to metabolism), the individual's fat status and balance, exposure history and diet.