To assess progress towards virtual elimination of PCBs, DDE, dieldrin and Mirex and their associated physiological effects, we compared their concentrations in pooled livers of adult herring gulls (Larus argentatus) repeatedly sampled at 8 Great Lakes colonies and a reference colony on the Atlantic coast between 1974 and 1993. We measured the relative thyroid mass and concentrations of highly carboxylated porphyrins and retinyl palmitate in the liver of each individual. PCBs, dieldrin and mirex declined in 7 of 8 colonies while DDE decreased in six. The greatest decreases occurred pre-1985. PCBs and DDE did not decrease in gulls from Middle Island in western L. Erie. Middle Island and Saginaw Bay had the highest concentrations of PCBs of 11 Great Lakes colonies in the 1990s. Thyroids of gulls from Great Lakes colonies were slightly enlarged but the degree of enlargement has decreased over time. In 1991, gulls from Great Lakes colonies had slight to moderately elevated concentrations of highly carboxylated porphyrins. In the early 1990s, hepatic stores of retinyl palmitate were very seriously depleted in gulls from the Detroit River, western basin of Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, reflecting decreased availability and altered storage. We conclude that PCBs and/or other persistent toxic substances in the food of herring gulls have not been virtually eliminated.