Electrokinetic techniques have been used to stimulate the removal of organic pollutants within soil, by directing contaminant migration to where remediation may be more easily achieved. The effect of this and other physical remediation techniques on the health of soil microbial communities has been poorly studied and indeed, largely ignored. This study reports the impact on soil microbial communities during the application of an electric field within ex situ laboratory soil microcosms contaminated with pentachlorophenol (PCP; 100 mg kg(-1) oven dry soil). Electrokinetics reduced counts of culturable bacteria and fungi, soil microbial respiration and carbon substrate utilisation, especially close to the acidic anode where PCP accumulated (36 d), perhaps exacerbated by the greater toxicity of PCP at lower soil pH. There is little doubt that a better awareness of the interactions between soil electrokinetic processes and microbial communities is key to improving the efficacy and sustainability of this remediation strategy. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.