Pesticides developed in the hope that they may be safer than older chemicals known to cause cancer may be only slightly better, according to Margaret Whalen, a biochemist at Tennessee State University. They found the compounds, which are used to protect crops such as pecans, potatoes and sugar beets, as well as to protect boats and wood, can damage cells in the human body that seek out and destroy microbes and cancer cells.

The researchers exposed human killer T cells — a type of immune cell that destroys cancerous and other abnormal cells — to TPT. They then measured the cells? potency against isolated human leukemia cells and discovered that a one-hour exposure to triphenyltin reduces the tumor-killing ability of these natural killer cells by 50 to 60 percent. The cells did not work properly again for six days after exposure to the chemical. ?Despite the fact that the compound is no longer there, they are still unable to kill the leukemia cell,? Whalen says. ?The results indicate that brief exposures to triphenyltin can cause persistent suppression of human immune system function.?

Whalen?s team did the study in laboratory dishes. She says it?s not clear whether there is a health risk to people who work with the chemical. She suspects that agricultural workers are exposed to lower levels in the field than those she used in the lab. The next step will be to check for TPT in the blood of people who use it regularly.

?These chemicals were made to replace things that are more toxic,? she says. ?This was considered an improvement on things that were used in the past.?

If you?re concerned about what you eat, read ?Genetically-Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers? by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston, click here.

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