Phytoestrogens in the environment, I: Occurrence and exposure effects on fathead minnows

Daniel C. Rearick, Nathan T. Fleischhacker, Megan M. Kelly, William A. Arnold, Paige J. Novak, Heiko L. Schoenfuss

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37 Scopus citations


Naturally occurring phytoestrogens may mimic biogenic estrogens and modulate endocrine action in vertebrates. Little is known, however, about their temporal and spatial variability in the environment and the biological effects associated with exposures. The present study assessed the environmental presence of phytoestrogens in human-impacted and relatively pristine areas. The response in larval and sexually mature fathead minnows to environmentally relevant concentrations of 3 common phytoestrogens (genistein, daidzein, and formononetin), both singly and in mixture, was also quantified. Phytoestrogens were only present in the human-impacted surface waters. When detected, mean concentrations were low (±standard deviation) in an urban lake: 1.4±0.5ng/L, 1.6±0.7ng/L, and 1.1±0.2ng/L for genistein, daidzein, and formononetin, respectively, and in treated wastewater effluent: 1.6±0.4ng/L, 1.8±1.3ng/L, and 2.0ng/L. Biochanin A was detected twice, whereas zearalenone and coumestrol were never detected. No clear temporal trends of aqueous phytoestrogen concentration were evident. Larval survival was significantly reduced in genistein, formononetin, and mixture treatments, whereas adult male fish only exhibited subtle changes to their anatomy, physiology, and behavior. Daidzein-exposed adult females produced greater quantities of eggs. The present study indicates that genistein, daidzein, and formononetin are likely attenuated rapidly and are unlikely to cause widespread ecological harm in the absence of other stressors. Environ Toxicol Chem 2014;33:553-559.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)553-559
Number of pages7
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Behavior
  • Endocrine-active compounds
  • Pimephales promelas
  • Reproduction


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