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Chemical Contaminants May Inhibit Cancer-Fighting White Blood Cells

ANAHEIM, Calif., March 24 -- Kentucky researchers have demonstrated, for the first time, that a class of common chemical contaminants known as butyltins disrupt the function of critical human immune cells. The scientists also say biologically significant concentrations of butyltins were found in random human blood samples. The findings are being presented at a national meeting of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

Butyltin compounds come in either single, double, or triple forms. They are used to inhibit the growth of unwanted organisms such as bacteria, algae, and barnacles. Tributyltin (TBT) is used as a wood preservative as well as on fish culture nets, docks, and boat hull paints. Though TBTs have been banned on small boats for about a decade, they are still commonly used on large ships. TBTs have been detected in seafood, such as fish and oysters, collected from coastal areas.

Various groups have done studies suggesting that tributyltin levels have decreased in U.S. waters in recent years, and some studies suggest that seafood does not contain enough tributyltins to cause human health problems. However, Murray State University chemist Bommanna G. Loganathan, Ph.D., who performed the study with another Murray State chemist, Margaret M. Whalen, Ph.D., says statistics for production of butyltins used in many everyday applications are not available.

The scientists found that butyltins disrupt the function of human natural killer cells, or NK cells, in the laboratory. The job of these blood cells is to destroy tumor cells and cells infected with viruses. When exposed to "environmentally relevant" concentrations of tributyltin in the lab for as little as an hour, Loganathan says the tumor-killing ability of NK cells was inhibited. Mono- and di- butyltins were found to be only slightly less harmful to the NK cells.

Mono- and dibutyltins are found in a variety of household products including some types
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Contact: Charmayne Marsh
y_marsh@acs.org
202-872-4445
American Chemical Society
25-Mar-1999


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