2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) is a herbicide widely used in the world and mainly excreted by the renal route in exposed humans and animals. Herbicides can affect other nontarget organisms, such as Escherichia coli. We observed that a single exposure to 1 mM 2,4-D diminished growth and total protein content in all E. coli strains tested in vitro. In addition, successive exposures to 0.01 mM 2,4-D had a toxic effect decreasing growth up to early stationary phase. Uropathogenic E. coli adhere to epithelial cells mediated by fimbriae, adhesins, and hydrophobic properties. 2,4-D exposure of uropathogenic E. coli demonstrated altered hydrophobicity and fimbriation. Hydrophobicity index values obtained by partition in p-xylene/water were 300-420% higher in exposed cells than in control ones. Furthermore, values of hemagglutination titer, protein contents in fimbrial crude extract, and electron microscopy demonstrated a significant diminution of fimbriation in treated cells. Other envelope alterations could be detected, such as lipoperoxidation, evidenced by decreased polyunsaturated fatty acids and increased lipid degradation products (malonaldehyde), and motility diminution. These alterations decreased cell adherence to erythrocytes, indicating a diminished pathogenic capacity of the 2,4-D-exposed E. coli. ?? 2001 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.