Pentachlorophenol, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid were transformed by microbial reductive dechlorination in freshwater, anaerobic sediments from such diverse locations as Georgia, Florida, New York and the Soviet Union. The reductive dechlorination process involves removal of a chlorine and replacement with a hydrogen. Sediments previously adapted to dechlorinate dichlorophenols were found to mediate dechlorination at much faster rates than unadapted sediments. Pentachlorophenol dechlorination in dichlorophenol-adapted sediments generated tetra-, tri-, di-, and monochlorophenol and phenol. Concentrations of pentachlorophenol, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid up to 100 ppm were dechlorinated by adapted sediments. Reductive dechlorination of PCP, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T was region specific for chlorine removal as determined by the dichlorophenol isomer used to adapt the sediment. Sediment adapted to 2,4-dichlorophenol preferentially removed chlorines from the ortho position; whereas sediment adapted to 3,4-dichlorophenol preferentially removed chlorines from the para position.