This paper presents the first attempt to quantify the production, cycling, storage and loss of PAHs in the UK environment. Over 53 000 tonnes of ∑PAHs (sum of 12 individual compounds) are estimated to reside in the contemporary UK environment, with soil being the major repository. If soils at contaminated sites are included, this estimate increases dramatically. Emission of PAHs to the UK atmosphere from primary combustion sources are estimated to be greater than 1000 tonnes ∑PAHs per annum, with over 95% coming from domestic coal combustion, unregulated fires and vehicle emissions. It is estimated that approximately 210 tonnes of ∑PAH are delivered to terrestrial surfaces each year via atmospheric deposition. Therefore, inputs of PAHs to the UK atmosphere outweigh the outputs by a factor of over 4. This may be explained by enhanced particulate deposition near point sources, PAH degradation in the atmosphere and transport away from the UK with prevailing winds. Disposal of waste residues is estimated to contribute a further 1000 tonnes of ∑PAH per year to the terrestrial environment. It is illustrated that the use of creosote has the potential to release considerable quantities of PAHs to the UK environment. Temporal trends in PAH cycling are then considered. There is good evidence to suggest that air concentrations and fluxes to the UK surface are now lower than at any time throughout this century. Nonetheless, the UK ∑PAH burden is still increasing at the present time, principally through retention by soils. However, there are marked differences in the behaviour of individual compounds: there is evidence, for example, that phenanthrene concentrations in soils have declined since the 1960s, although soil concentrations of benzo[a]pyrene and other heavier PAHs have continued to increase through this century. Volatilisation of low molecular weight PAHs accumulated in soils over previous decades may be making an important contribution to the current atmospheric burden. The major uncertainties identified by data on this budget are: (1) the lack of PAH concentrations in some environmental matrices; (2) the possible importance of contaminated soils as a major repository and source of PAHs; (3) the lack of emission data (especially vapour phase releases) for some PAH sources; (4) the importance of biodegradation and volatilisation as loss mechanisms for low molecular weight PAHs in soils; and (5) the importance of creosote use in the PAH cycle.