Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are common flame retardants used in polyurethane foam, high impact polystyrene, and textiles which appear to be increasing in the environment and biota. Two PBDE congeners that are particularly prominent in environmental samples are 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-47) and 2,2',4,4',5-pentabromodiphenyl ether (BDE-99). These two congeners are major components in penta-BDE formulations which constitute a minor percentage of the commercial PBDE market. In order to determine the bioavailability and bioconcentration potential of these PBDEs, we have conducted a feeding experiment in rats, dosing with low amounts of a commercial penta-BDE mixture for 21 days to mimic an environmental exposure. The carcasses, livers, and feces from control and dosed rats were quantitated for PBDEs by a high resolution GC-MS isotope dilution method. Between 25% and 50% of each of the dosed congeners was retained in the rats with the liver being a minor depot (<1% of the dose). Fecal excretion accounted for 4-12% of the dosed congeners. A large percent of the dose (40-60%) was not recovered indicating that metabolic transformations may have occurred in the rats. Hydroxylated metabolites were qualitatively identified in the feces and carcass by GC-MS. The relative congener distribution in each tissue was nearly identical to the congener distribution of the commercial mixture. Conclusions from the study suggest that the tetra- to hexa-BDEs present in commercial penta-BDE formulations are largely bioavailable, that bioavailability in the rat is not dependent on the degree of bromination, and that metabolism may occur to a large extent during a chronic exposure.