Sewage sludge containing typical indigenous concentrations of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) was applied to several different soils in glass microcosms. Biologically active and sterilized soils were monitored for PAH content over a period of approximately 205 d. Agricultural soils with and without previous exposure to sewage sludge were tested, together with a forest soil and a soil from a major roadside. Loss of PAHs from a soil spiked with a PAH standard solution was also investigated. Results indicate the PAH compounds with less than four benzene rings are susceptible to abiotic loss processes. However, losses by these mechanisms were insignificant for compounds with four or more benzene rings. Half-lives for the sludge-applied PAHs were derived and indicated a strong dependence of persistence on chemical structure. Half-lives for phenanthrene and benzo[ghi]perylene were between 83 and 193 d and 282 and 535 d, respectively. Mean half-lives correlate directly with log Kow and inversely with log water solubility. Behavior of PAHs was different in each soil, probably due to different soil characteristics and history of PAH exposure. The soil spiked with PAHs provided the lowest half-life values for most PAH compounds, suggesting a higher susceptibility of spiked PAHs to both abiotic and biological degradation.