Energy budgets have provided physiological ecologists with a vital link between environmental variables and individual performance and should also prove useful to ecotoxicologists in understanding the effects of sublethal exposure in the field. Exposure to toxic compounds is likely to be metabolically expensive and may result in a trade-off between energy spent to detoxify and excrete contaminants and energy allocated to growth or reproduction. To quantify the energetic cost of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) exposure, we fed captive white-footed mice (Peromyscus leucopus) diets containing PCBs (2:1 Aroclor? 1242:1254) at levels of 0, 0.1, 10, and 25 ppm (mg PCBs/kg food). After six weeks on the diets, there were no differences in food intake (g/d), diet digestibility (%), or body mass related to the level of dietary PCBs. This indicated that short-term exposure to PCBs did not cause a detectable increase in energy need as measured by voluntary food intake. We continued to feed mice the PCB-containing diets for one year, at which time we repeated the food intake trial, and also measured oxygen consumption at 20 and 30 C. After one year, all mice had gained mass, but mice on the 25-ppm diet tended to be heavier than mice in the other groups. Compared to the control group, mice on the 25-ppm diet had higher food intake (4.1 vs 3.7 g/d; p = 0.06) and higher oxygen consumption at 30 C (40.1 vs 36.6 ml O2/h; p = 0.01). These results suggest that there is an energetic cost to long-term contaminant exposure that, when combined with other environmental stresses, may influence patterns of energy acquisition and allocation.