A simple one-box mass budget model is presented as a first step toward a quantitative understanding of the long-term fate of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in San Francisco Bay (USA). Sensitivity analysis indicated that the most influential input parameters were degradation half-life in sediment, Kow, outflow, average PCB concentration in sediment, and depth of the active sediment layer. Moderately influential parameters included organic carbon content of suspended solids, sediment burial mass transfer coefficient, and Henry's law constant. If external loading could be eliminated entirely, the mass of PCBs in the bay is predicted to drop to half of the present value in 20 years. The model predicts that sustained loading of 10 kg year−1 would prevent the total PCB mass in the bay from ever dropping below 10% of the present mass. With a sustained loading of 20 kg year−1, the model predicts that the total PCB mass would never fall below about 25% of the present mass. The half-lives in the bay for the individual PCB congeners evaluated in this report ranged from four years for PCB 18 to 30 years for PCB 194.