Aquatic Photochemistry of Isoflavone Phytoestrogens: Degradation Kinetics and Pathways

Isoflavones are plant-derived chemicals that are potential endocrine disruptors. Although some recent studies have detected isoflavones in natural waters, little is known about their aquatic fates. The photochemical behaviors of the isoflavones daidzein, formononetin, biochanin A, genistein, and equol were studied under simulated solar light and natural sunlight. All of these phytoestrogens were found to be photolabile under certain conditions. Daidzein and formononetin degraded primarily by direct photolysis. Their expected near-surface summer half-lives in pH 7 water at 47° latitude are expected to be 10 and 4.6 h, respectively. Biochanin A, genistein, and equol degraded relatively slowly by direct photolysis at environmentally realistic pH values, though they showed significant degradation rate enhancements in the presence of natural organic matter (NOM). The indirect photolysis rates for these compounds scaled with NOM concentration, and NOM from microbial origin was found to be a more potent photosensitizer than NOM from terrestrial sources. Mechanistic studies were performed to determine the indirect photolysis pathways responsible for the rate enhancements. Results of these studies implicate reaction with both singlet oxygen and excited state triplet NOM. Environmental half-lives for biochanin A, genistein, and equol are expected to vary on the basis of pH as well as NOM source and concentration.