Tin is a natural element found in the earth's crust. It is a soft, white-silver metal that does not dissolve in water. It is found in brass, copper, and some other ores. Tin is used as a coating for food and drink containers. Tin can be combined with other chemicals (such as Chlorine, Sulfur, or Oxygen) to form compounds. These compounds are used in toothpaste, perfumes, soaps, food additives, and pigments. Tin is also combined with carbon to form the organotin compounds. These compounds are used in the manufacture of plastics, food packaging, plastic pipes, pesticides, and paints. Tin and its inorganic and organic compounds can be found in air, water, and soil near places where it is naturally found in rocks or where it is mined or used.
The main route of exposure to Tin and its compounds is through the consumption of contaminated foods. Ingestion of large quantities of Tin minerals can cause stomachache, anemia. liver and kidney problems. People exposed for short periods of time to certain organic compounds of tin can experience skin and eye irritation and neurological problems. Exposure to very high amounts of Tin can be fatal.
How does Tin enter the environment?
- Tin is released into the environment both from natural processes and from human activities such as mining, burning coal and oil as well as producing and using Tin compounds. Disposable cans will quickly form inorganic tin compounds.
- Inorganic Tin can not be destroyed in the environment, it can only change shape. Organic compounds of Tin can be broken down into inorganic compounds by sunlight and bacteria.
- In the atmosphere, Tin exists as a gas and as a vapor and it is deposited in dust particles. Tin-containing particles can be transported by wind and by rain or snow.
- Inorganic Tin settles on the soil and sediments in the water. Some inorganic compounds of Tin are dissolved in water.
- Organic Tin compounds remain in soil sediments and in water particles.
- The time each organic compound of Tin remains in the water and the soil differs. In water, it can range from days to weeks and the soil can be years.
- Organic compounds of Tin can accumulate in fish and other animal organisms and in plants.
How is someone exposed to Tin?
- Consuming food or liquids from Tin cans (more than 90% of Tin cans used for food are protected by lacquer today).
- By breathing air or dust particles containing Tin in the workplace or near hazardous waste sites.
- Exposure to certain organotin compounds may result from the consumption of seafood from coastal waters or from contact with household products containing organotin compounds (ie, some plastics).
How can Tin affect health?
The cans are not very toxic due to the poor absorption of Tin by the gastrointestinal tract. Studies in humans and animals have shown that ingestion of large quantities of Tin minerals can cause stomachache, anemia, liver and kidney problems.
Inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact with certain organotin compounds can affect brain and nervous system function. In severe cases, they can cause death. Some organotin compounds have been shown to affect the immune and reproductive systems in animals.
Inorganic or organic Tin compounds can cause skin and eye irritation upon contact.
Tin has no known biological role in living organisms. It is not easily absorbed by animals and humans. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea have been reported after ingesting canned foods containing 200 mg/kg Tin. One study showed that 99.5% of tested food containers contain Tin below this level. However, containers that have not been lacquered and which contain low pH foods (for example fruits and pickled vegetables) may contain high concentrations of Tin.
The toxic effects of Tin compounds are based on interference with the metabolism of Iron and Copper. For example, it affects heme and cytochrome P450 and reduces their efficacy.
How can the risk of exposure to Tin be reduced?
- As Tin is naturally present in the environment, we cannot completely avoid exposure.
- Reduce the consumption of canned products and store unused portions of food in different containers.
- Reduce the consumption of seafood from waters that may be contaminated with organic Tin compounds and reduce contact with household products containing organotin compounds.
How can one determine if one has been exposed to Tin?
We can measure the levels of tin in the blood and most biological materials.
Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!
Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for the diagnosis and monitoring of all pathological conditions. 70%-80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. The correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased".
Laboratory test results should not be interpreted from the numerical result of a single analysis. Test results should be interpreted in relation to each individual case and family history, clinical findings, and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your personal physician should explain the importance of your test results.
At Diagnostiki Athinon we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and we contact your doctor to get the best possible medical care.