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Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) continue to be contaminants of concern across the Great Lakes. It is unclear whether current concentrations are driven by ongoing primary emissions from their original uses, or whether ambient PCBs are dominated by their environmental cycling. Freely dissolved PCBs in air and water were measured using polyethylene passive samplers across Lakes Erie and Ontario during summer and fall, 2011, to investigate their spatial distribution, determine and apportion their sources and to asses their air–water exchange gradients. Average gaseous and freely dissolved ∑29 PCB concentrations ranged from 5.0 to 160 pg/m3 and 2.0 to 55 pg/L respectively. Gaseous concentrations were significantly correlated (R2 = 0.80) with the urban area within a 3−20 km radius. Fugacity ratios indicated that the majority of PCBs are volatilizing from the water thus acting as a secondary source for the atmosphere. Dissolved PCBs were probably linked to PCB emissions from contaminated sites and areas of concern. Positive matrix factorization indicated that although volatilized Aroclors (gaseous PCBs) and unaltered Aroclors (dissolved PCBs) dominate in some samples, ongoing non-Aroclor sources such as paints/pigments (PCB 11) and coal/wood combustion showed significant contributions across the lower Great Lakes. Accordingly, control strategies should give further attention to PCBs emitted from current use sources.

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