Abstract A survey is presented of some recent results for passive sampling of water and air for trace organic contaminants using lipid-filled semipermeable membrane devices (SPMDs). Results of water sampling for trace organochlorine compounds using simultaneously exposed SPMDs and the most universally applied biomonitor (bivalves) are discussed. In general, the total amounts of accumulated analytes available for analysis in bivalves and SPMDs were comparable. However, SPMD controls typically had negligible levels of contamination, which was not always the case for transplanted bivalves, even after prolonged depuration prior to exposure. In surveys of the spatial trends of organochlorines at a series of sites, data from bivalves and SPMDs provided the same picture of contaminant distribution and severity. An exception was ionizable contaminants such as the chlorinated phenolic compounds and their transformation products found in pulp mill effluents. In these cases the two monitoring approaches compliment each other, i.e. what is not found in bivalves appears in SPMDs and vice versa. SPMDs have also been applied in environments where biomonitoring is not feasible. SPMDs have shown their utility in studies of trace levels of polyaromatic hydrocarbons by locating and characterizing point sources. An example is given of their application to the calculation of contaminant half-lives from aqueous SPMD residues, a direct measurement of the persistence of contaminants in an environmental compartment. Similarly, results of air sampling with SPMDs in a relatively pristine coastal location are cited which reveal a tremendous enhancement in p,p′-DDE relative to open ocean values.