The developed method enables the quantification of estrogens in sewage samples down to 1 ng/l and in river water down to 0.5 ng/l. Mean recoveries of the analytes in ground water after SPE extraction, clean-up and derivatization generally exceeded 75%. The determined R.S.D. varied from 0 to 14% at a spiking level of 0.05 microgram/l. Even in the raw influent and the final effluent from municipal STPs the mean recoveries of estrogens were mostly above 70%. Using this method the behavior and occurrence of natural estrogens and synthetic contraceptives in municipal sewage treatment plants (STP) were investigated in German and Canadian facilities. In the sewage of a German municipal STP close to Frankfurt/Main 17 beta-estradiol and estrone were determined, with mean concentrations of 0.015 microgram/l and 0.027 microgram/l, respectively. In two investigated municipal STPs, 17 beta-estradiol and 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone were eliminated with a higher efficiency than 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol and estrone. In Canadian and German STP discharges estrone, 17 beta-estradiol, 17 alpha-ethinylestradiol and 16 alpha-hydroxyestrone were frequently detected within the lower ng/l-range. A maximum concentration was found for estrone with 70 ng/l. In 15 investigated German rivers and streams only estrone was present with a maximum concentration of 1.6 ng/l.