ToxFAQsTM for Tin
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently
asked health questions about tin. For more information, you
may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636. This
fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous
substances and their health effects. This information is important
because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure
to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration,
how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether
other chemicals are present.
The main route
of exposure to tin and tin compounds is by eating food
contaminated with these compounds. Swallowing large amounts
of inorganic tin compounds may cause stomachache, anemia,
and liver and kidney problems. Humans exposed for a short
period of time to some organic tin compounds have experienced
skin and eye irritation and neurological problems; exposure
to very high amounts may be lethal. Metallic tin and inorganic
tin compounds have been found in at least 214 of the 1,662
National Priority List (NPL) sites identified by the Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA). Organic tin compounds have been
identified in at least 8 of the NPL sites.
What are tin and tin compounds?
Tin is a natural element in the earth's
crust. It is a soft, white, silvery metal that does not dissolve
in water. It is present in brass, bronze, pewter, and some
soldering materials. Tin metal is used to line cans for food,
beverages, and aerosols.
Tin can combine with other chemicals
to form compounds. Combinations with chemicals like chlorine,
sulfur, or oxygen are called inorganic tin compounds (i.e.,
stannous chloride, stannous sulfide, stannic oxide). These
are used in toothpaste, perfumes, soaps, food additives and
dyes. Tin also can combine with carbon to form organotin compounds
(i.e., dibutyltin, tributyltin, triphenyltin). These compounds
are used to make plastics, food packages, plastic pipes, pesticides,
paints, and pest repellents.
Tin metal, and inorganic and organic
tin compounds can be found in the air, water, and soil near
places where they are naturally present in the rocks, or where
they are mined, manufactured, or used.
What happens to tin and tin compounds when they enter the environment?
- Tin is released into the environment by both natural processes
and human activities, such as mining, coal and oil combustion,
and the production and use of tin compounds. Metallic tin
released to the environment will quickly form inorganic
- Inorganic tin cannot be destroyed in the environment;
it can only change its form. Organic tin compounds can be
degraded to inorganic tin compounds by sunlight and bacteria.
- In the atmosphere, tin exists as gases and fumes, and
attaches to dust particles. Particles in the air containing
tin may be transported by wind or washed out of the air
by rain or snow.
- Inorganic tin binds to soil and to sediments in water.
Some inorganic tin compounds dissolve in water.
- Organic tin compounds stick to soil sediment, and particles
- The time each organic tin compound stays in water and
soil differs for each compound. In water it may range from
days to weeks and in soil it may be years.
- Organic tin compounds can build up in fish, other organisms,
How might I be exposed to tin and tin compounds?
- Eating food or drinking liquids from tin-lined cans (today
greater than 90% of tin-lined cans used for food are protected
- Breathing air or touching dusts that contains tin in the
workplace or near hazardous waste sites.
- Exposure to some organotins can occur by eating seafood
from coastal waters or from contact with household products
that contain organotin compounds (i.e., some plastics).
How can tin and tin compounds affect my health?
Metallic tin is not very toxic due to
its poor gastrointestinal absorption. Human and animal studies
show that ingestion of large amounts of inorganic tin compounds
can cause stomachache, anemia, and liver and kidney problems.
Breathing or swallowing, or skin contact
with some organotins, such as trimethyltin and triethyltin
compounds, can interfere with the way the brain and nervous
system work. In severe cases, it can cause death.
Some organotin compounds, such as dibutyltins and tributyltins,
have been shown to affect the immune system in animals, but
this has not been examined in people. Studies in animals also
have shown that some organotins, such as dibutyltins, tributyltins,
and triphenyltins can affect the reproductive system. This,
also, has not been examined in people.
Inorganic or organic tin compounds placed
on the skin or in the eyes can produce skin and eye irritation.
How likely are tin and tin compounds to cause cancer?
There is no evidence that tin or tin
compounds cause cancer in humans. Studies in animals have
not shown evidence of carcinogenicity for inorganic tin. A
study in rats and another in mice showed that a specific organotin,
triphenyltin hydroxide, can produce cancer in animals after
long-term oral administration.
The Department of Health and Human Services
(DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),
and the EPA have not classified metallic tin or inorganic
tin compounds for carcinogenicity. The EPA has determined
that a specific organotin, tributyltin oxide, is not classifiable
as to human carcinogenicity.
How can tin and tin compounds affect children?
There are no studies on health effects
in children exposed to tin and tin compounds. However, it
is reasonable to assume that children would exhibit the same
type of health effects observed in exposed adults. There are
no reports of adverse developmental effects in humans exposed
to tin or its compounds. There are no studies examining developmental
effects in animals exposed to inorganic tin. Exposure of rodents
to some organotins during pregnancy has produced birth defects
in the newborn animals. A study with tributyltin in rats found
that exposure during gestation, lactation, and following lactation
affected the development of some sexual characteristics in
female rats. We do not know whether tin and tin compounds
can be passed to newborn animals in maternal milk. We know
that some organotins can cross the placenta and reach the
fetus in animals.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to tin and tin compounds?
- Because tin is naturally found in the environment, we
cannot avoid being exposed to it.
- Reduce the amount of canned products you eat or drink
and store unused portions in separate containers.
- Reduce your consumption of seafood from waters that may
be contaminated with organic tin compounds and your contact
with household products that contain organotin compounds
(for example, silicon-coated baking parchment paper).
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to tin?
There are tests to measure total tin
and specific organotin compounds in your blood, urine, feces,
and body tissues. Normally, small amounts of tin can be found
in the body because of the daily exposure to small amounts
in the food. Therefore, the available tests cannot tell you
when you were exposed or the exact amount of tin to which
you were exposed, but can help determine if you were recently
exposed to an unusually high amount of tin. These tests are
not routinely performed at your doctor's office, but your
doctor can take samples and send them to a testing laboratory.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set a limit of 0.1 milligrams per cubic meter of air (0.1 mg/m3) in the workplace for organotin compounds and 2.0 mg/m3 for inorganic tin compounds, except oxides.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates the use of some organic tin compounds in coatings and plastic food packaging. The FDA also has set limits for the use of an inorganic tin compound, stannous chloride, as an additive for food.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2005. Toxicological Profile for Tin and Compounds (Update). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Innovation and Analytics, Toxicology Section
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.