Certain phenyl-substituted hydrocarbons of environmental concern have the potential to disrupt the endocrine system of animals, apparently in association with their estrogenic properties. Competition with natural estrogens for the estrogen receptor is a possible mechanism by which such effects could occur. We used comparative molecular field analysis (CoMFA), a three-dimensional quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) paradigm, to examine the underlying structural properties of ortho-chlorinated hydroxybiphenyl analogs known to bind to the estrogen receptor. The cross-validated and conventional statistical results indicate a high degree of internal predictability for the molecules included in the training data set. In addition to the phenolic (A) ring system, conformational restriction of the overall structure appears to play an important role in estrogen receptor binding affinity. Hydrophobic character as assessed using hydropathic interaction fields also contributes in a positive way to binding affinity. The CoMFA-derived QSARs may be useful in examining the estrogenic activity of a wider range of phenyl-substituted hydrocarbons of environmental concern.