We evaluated the overall potency of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-containing extracts from double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritis) eggs with an in vitro bioassay system, the H4IIE rat hepatoma cell bioassay. Results from the H4IIE bioassay were strongly correlated with the hatching success of eggs in the colonies, whereas conventional methods of PCB analysis correlated poorly with hatching success of eggs from the same colonies. These observations suggest that even though concentrations of total PCB residues have declined in almost all compartments of the environment, their effects are still being observed. The significance of this observation is that the adverse symptoms presently observed in certain Great Lakes fish-eating waterbird populations do not appear to be caused by some as yet unidentified industrial chemical or chemicals and seem not to be the result of pesticides, but rather to the dioxin-like activity of PCBs. Evidence is presented to suggest that the relative enrichment of the potency of PCBs in the environment may play a role in the persistence of the observed adverse symptoms.