We analyzed the fate of organotins in seawater and sediments from Tokyo Bay, Japan, by gas chromatography/inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. We also measured the toxicity of methylated butyltins by in vitro bioassays, the retinoid × receptor (RXR) activation method, and the marine luminescent bacterium Vibrio fischeri. Concentrations of tributyltin (TBT) and tributylmonomethyltin (TBMMT) in seawater were 0.0636 to 0.419 and 0.0050 to 0.108 ng Sn/L and in sediment were 7.51 to 17.8 and 3.67 to 6.87 ng Sn/wet weight g, respectively. Methylated butyltins did not activate RXR and were not toxic to bacteria. Tributylmonomethyltin in seawater would elute from sediment since TBMMT-to-TBT ratios showed a positive correlation (r2 = 0.858) between sediment and deep seawater. Both methylation and debutylation of TBT seem to be major routes of decomposition of TBT in sediment. Methylation of TBT would not only cause subsequent volatilization but also decrease the toxicity of TBT species in the marine environment.
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