Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in sediment cores from Lake Lucerne, Lake Zürich, and Greifensee, Switzerland, and Lake Washington, northwest U.S.A., have been isolated, identified and quantified by glass capillary gas chromatography and gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Surface sediment layers are greatly enriched in PAH—up to 40 times—compared to deeper layers. In addition, concentration increases in upper sediments generally correspond to increasing industrialization and urbanization in the catchment basins of the lakes. Few PAH could be detected in pre-industrial revolution sediments, indicating that background levels for most PAH in aquatic sediments are extremely low. These results are consistent with an anthropogenic source for most of the aromatic hydrocarbons present in the modern sediments. A comparison of PAH distributions in the sediments and in possible source materials shows that urban runoff of street dust may be the most important PAH input to these lacustrine sediments. There is evidence that a significant contribution to the PAH content of street dust comes from material associated with asphalt.