Abstract The purpose of this study was to examine PAH accumulation and bulky DNA adduct formation in the digestive gland of zebra mussels exposed in their habitat or in controlled laboratory conditions to complex mixture of PAH. DNA adducts were measured using a 32P-postlabelling protocol with nuclease P1 enrichment adapted from Reddy and Randerath [Reddy, M.V., Randerath, K., 1986. Nuclease P1-mediated enhancement of sensitivity of 32P-postlabelling test for structurally diverse DNA adducts. Carcinogenesis 7, 1543–1551]. Specimens collected in the upper part of the Seine estuary were shown to accumulate higher levels of PAH (up to 1.6 μg g −1 dry weight) in comparison to individuals from the reference site (0.053 μg g −1 dry weight). The former exhibited elevated levels of DNA adducts (up to 4.0/10 8 nucleotides) and higher diversity of individual adducts with five distinct spots being specifically detected in individuals originating from the Seine estuary. Zebra mussels exposed for 5 days to 0.01% (v/v) of organic extract of sediment from the Seine estuary were shown to accumulate high amounts of PAH (up to 138 μg g −1 dry weight) but exhibited relatively low levels of DNA adducts. Exposure to benzo[ a]pyrene led to a dose-dependent accumulation of B[ a]P (up to 7063 μg g −1 dry weight) and a clear induction of DNA adduct formation in the digestive gland of mussels (up to 1.13/10 8 nucleotides). Comparisons with other bivalves exposed to the same model PAH, revealed similar levels of adducts and comparable adduct profiles with a main adduct spot and a second faint one. This study clearly demonstrated that zebra mussels are able to biotransform B[ a]P and probably other PAH into reactive metabolites with DNA-binding activity. This work also demonstrated the applicability of the nuclease P1 enhanced 32P-postlabelling method for bulky adduct detection in the digestive gland of zebra mussels. DNA adduct measurement in zebra mussels could be a suitable biomarker to monitor PAH-exposure and evaluate genotoxicity in fresh water ecosystems.