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Definition of tributyltin (TBT):
Compound used in antifouling paint for ships hulls which is toxic to marine life [1].
This is the common definition for tributyltin (TBT), other definitions can be discussed in the article



TBT is an organotin compound, meaning it's an organic compound with an associated tin molecule. Of all organotins TBT is the one which in the past has caused most damage to the marine environment.

Antifouling paints containing TBT are much more effective and long lasting than mercury or copper based antifouling paints. They were first painted on ships in the 1970s and were subsequently also commonly used on net enclosures of mariculture installations[2].

TBT concentrations ranged from 1 ng/l in boat free areas to levels above 600 ng/l near marinas. Even levels above 1 µg/l can be reached in heavily polluted marinas. Such concentrations, which are toxic for mollusk larvae, have caused recruitment failure of scallops and oysters. TBT also causes a variety of sublethal effects at much lower levels. Concentrations of 10 ng/l can cause reduced growth and shell thickening in oysters, which reduces the size of the animals inside, making the oysters unmarketable. Another sublethal effect of TBT is the development of an nonfunctional penis in females, a condition called imposex. The oviduct and the female genital opening are eventually overgrown by the developing penis and are blocked so that the eggs can not be laid. The affected populations decline and can eventually become locally extinct[2]. Awareness of these effects resulted in an international ban to apply TBT on ships starting from 2003, and the obligation to remove all TBT on ships by 2008.[3]

Mammals, birds, crustatians and fish seem to be able to break down TBT. Therefore there is little or no risk for biomagnification of TBT[4].

Case studies

TBT and intersex in periwinkles

Environmental standards and legislation

Included in the OSPAR list of substances of priority action

Included in the water framework list of priority substances

See also

TBT on the ED North Database

OSPAR background document on organic tin compounds

TBT and Imposex


  1. Sullivan P (ed.), 1999. Eric Sullivan's encyclopaedic dictionary. 6th edition. LPP Reference Publishing.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Clark, R,B., 1999. Marine pollution. Oxford University press, Fourth edition, pp 161
  3. Maes, F.; Gonsaeles, G.; Le Roy, D.; Konings, F.; Vermeire, I. (2000). Beleidsvoorbereidend onderzoek inzake de implementatie van OSPAR-beslissingen en -aanbevelingen: eindrapport (offerte VMM.AK.1999-2). Maritiem Instituut Universiteit Gent: Gent. 50 + annexes pp.
  4. Kennish, M. J. (1996): Practical Handbook of Estuarine and Marine Pollution, CRC Press 524 pp
The main author of this article is Daphnis De Pooter
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Daphnis De Pooter (2022): TBT. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/TBT [accessed on 24-05-2024]