A rapid procedure was devised for detecting on solid media bacteria able to degrade water-insoluble, solid hydrocarbons such as the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons phenanthrene, anthracene, and biphenyl. After Alcaligenes faecalis AFK2 was inoculated on a plate containing mineral salts agar, an ethereal solution of phenanthrene (about 10%, wt/vol) was sprayed on the surface of the plate, and the plate was incubated at 30 degrees C for 2 to 3 days. Colonies showing degradation were surrounded with clear zones on the opaque plate. A similar clear zone also was formed around colonies which had been grown on a succinate-mineral salts agar or nutrient agar, followed by spraying of the ethereal solution of phenanthrene and further incubating for 1 day. Other phenanthrene-assimilating bacteria, including Beijerinckia Bwt and Pseudomonas SPM64, also formed clear zones on phenanthrene-covered agar plates. This method was applicable to detection of bacteria able to assimilate anthracene, naphthalene, and biphenyl.