Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 26, Issue 10, pp 9443–9468 | Cite as

Occurrence, sorption, and transformation of free and conjugated natural steroid estrogens in the environment

  • Weiwei Yu
  • Banghao DuEmail author
  • Lun Yang
  • Zhi Zhang
  • Chun Yang
  • Shaochun Yuan
  • Minne Zhang
Review Article


Natural steroid estrogens (NSEs), including free estrogens (FEs) and conjugated estrogens (CEs), are of emerging concern globally among public and scientific community due to their recognized adverse effects on human and wildlife endocrine systems in recent years. In this review, the properties, occurrence, sorption process, and transformation pathways of NSEs are clarified in the environment. The work comprehensively summarizes the occurrence of both free and conjugated estrogens in different natural and built environments (e.g., river, WWTPs, CAFOs, soil, and sediment). The sorption process of NSEs can be impacted by organic compounds, colloids, composition of clay minerals, specific surface area (SSA), cation exchange capacity (CEC), and pH value. The degradation and transformation of free and conjugated estrogens in the environment primarily involves oxidation, reduction, deconjugation, and esterification reactions. Elaboration about the major, subordinate, and minor transformation pathways of both biotic and abiotic processes among NSEs is highlighted. The moiety types and binding sites also would affect deconjugation degree and preferential transformation pathways of CEs. Notably, some intermediate products of NSEs still remain estrogenic potency during transformation process; the elimination of total estrogenic activity needs to be addressed in further studies. The in-depth researches regarding the behavior of both free and conjugated estrogens are further required to tackle their contamination problem in the ecosystem.

Graphical abstract


Free estrogens Conjugated estrogens Environmental behavior Occurrence Organic compounds Biotic/abiotic transformation pathways 



Natural steroid estrogens


Free estrogens


Conjugated estrogens


World Health Organization


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals












Conjugated sulfate estrogens












Conjugated glucuronide estrogens














Conjugated sulfate-glucuronide estrogens








Wastewater treatment plants


Hospital wastewater treatment plants


Concentrated animal feeding operations


Octanol-water partition coefficient


Solid-water distribution coefficient


Organic carbon distribution coefficient


Acid dissociation constant


Human breast cancer cell line proliferation


Yeast estrogen screen


Limit of quantification


Limit of detection


Dissolved organic matter


Solid retention time


Hydraulic retention time










Hydroxyl radical


Specific surface area


Cation exchange capacity


Humic acid


Colloidal organic carbon


Dissolved organic carbon





The authors express sincere thanks to Editor Professor Doctor Ester Heath and three anonymous reviewers for their critical and dedicated comments on the original manuscript, which greatly improved the quality of the final article.

Funding information

This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (51608079), National Engineering Technology Research Center for Inland Waterway Regulation and Key Laboratory of Hydraulic and Waterway Engineering of the Ministry of Education Open Funding (SLK2018A04), Graduate Education Innovation Funding of School of River and Ocean Engineering, Chongqing Jiaotong University (YC2018002), and Laboratory Open Funding of Chongqing Jiaotong University (SYJ201608).

Supplementary material

11356_2019_4402_MOESM1_ESM.docx (24 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 24 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Weiwei Yu
    • 1
  • Banghao Du
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lun Yang
    • 1
  • Zhi Zhang
    • 2
  • Chun Yang
    • 2
  • Shaochun Yuan
    • 1
  • Minne Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Hydraulic and Waterway Engineering of the Ministry of Education, School of River and Ocean EngineeringChongqing Jiaotong UniversityChongqingChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Three Gorges Reservoir Region’s Eco-Environments of the Ministry of EducationChongqing UniversityChongqingChina

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