Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) accumulate and persist in sediments posing a risk to human health and the environment. Highly chlorinated PCBs are reductively dechlorinated in anaerobic sediments and two bacteria, designated o-17 and DF-1, from a novel phylogenetic group that reductively dechlorinate PCBs have recently been identified. However, there is a paucity of knowledge about the distribution, diversity and ecology of PCB-dechlorinating bacteria due to difficulty in obtaining pure cultures and the lack of detection by universal PCR 16S rRNA gene primer sets in sediments. A specific PCR primer was developed and optimized for detection of o-17/DF-1 and other closely related bacteria in the environment. Using this primer set it was determined that bacteria of this group were enriched in sediment microcosms from Baltimore Harbour concurrent with active dechlorination of 2,2',3,4,4',5'-hexachlorobiphenyl. Additional 16S rRNA gene sequences that had high levels of similarity to described PCB dechlorinators were detected in sediments from the Elizabeth River tributary of Chesapeake Bay, which had confirmed PCB-dechlorinating activities. Phylogenetic comparison of these detected 16S rRNA gene sequences revealed a relatively diverse group of organisms within the dehalogenating Chloroflexi that are distinct from the Dehalococcoides spp. Results from this study indicate that reductive PCB dechlorination activity may be catalysed by a previously undescribed group of micro-organisms that appear to be prevalent in PCB-impacted sites.