French team track tin toxins

A team from the University of Pau in southern France has developed a method to monitor highly toxic tin compounds leaking out of landfills.

Organo-tin compounds have a wide range of applications in industry and are used as heat and light stabilisers in plastics as well as in a variety of fungicides, wood preservatives and anti-fouling paints.

But while they have useful properties for manufacturers, these compounds also have a downside – their extreme toxicity.

As well as being powerful neurotoxins these chemicals can also cause organ failure in humans and animals as they react with the fatty surfaces in cells such as cell membranes.

Organo-tin compounds have caused widespread contamination both in people’s homes and at waste sites.

Once in the environment, the compounds are difficult to contain and costly and lengthy remediation is likely to be necessary at contaminated sites.

According to the Pau team, monitoring the risk of such contamination, and its extent, has been limited to ‘best guess’ science as previous methods have only provided an estimate of certain specific forms of toxic tin, not the whole spectrum.

The new lab-based method involves taking samples from suspect sites, then running them through a relatively simple three-step process to give a reliable estimate all alkylated tin compounds arising from landfill sites.

The theory has been put to the test at three French landfill sites, with promising results.

“Such a methodology can be extremely useful to assess the fate of organotin compounds, providing a specific, reliable and complete understanding of the environmental impact of this kind of effluent,” said Dr David Amouroux, lead researcher on the project.

The team’s paper on the research has been published in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry.

Sam Bond

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