Sewage, a complex mixture of organic and inorganic chemicals, is considered to be a major source of environmental pollution. A random screen of 20 organic man-made chemicals present in liquid effluents revealed that half appeared able to interact with the estradiol receptor. This was demonstrated by their ability to inhibit binding of 17 beta-estradiol to the fish estrogen receptor. Further studies, using mammalian estrogen screens in vitro, revealed that the two phthalate esters butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP) and di-n-butylphthalate (DBP) and a food antioxidant, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) were estrogenic; however, they were all less estrogenic than the environmental estrogen octylphenol. Phthalate esters, used in the production of various plastics (including PVC), are among the most common industrial chemicals. Their ubiquity in the environment and tendency to bioconcentrate in animal fat are well known. Neither BBP nor DBP were able to act as antagonists, indicating that, in the presence of endogenous estrogens, their overall effect would be cumulative. Recently, it has been suggested that environmental estrogens may be etiological agents in several human diseases, including disorders of the male reproductive tract and breast and testicular cancers. The current finding that some phthalate compounds and some food additives are weakly estrogenic in vitro, needs to be supported by further studies on their effects in vivo before any conclusions can be made regarding their possible role in the development of these conditions.