Tin compounds are being used increasingly in the home, in industry and in medicine. There have been relatively few studies on the long term biological effects of this metal, although acute effects have been documented. In this report we describe experiments which show that tin(II), as stannous chloride, is readily taken up by human white blood cells (WBC) and can cause damage to DNA. Damage was detected in WBC after exposure to 10-50 microM tin(II) for 30 min at either 0 degree or 37 degrees C. The amount of damage observed was more extensive than that produced by exposure of cells to equimolar amounts of chromium(VI), a known carcinogen and DNA damaging agent. Additional indication of cellular damage is that exposure of human lymphocytes or mouse splenocytes to tin(II) interfered with their ability to be stimulated by the polyvalent mitogen concanavalin A (Con A). By contrast, tin(IV) was not taken up by cells, did not cause DNA damage nor did it inhibit stimulation of DNA synthesis in cells that were exposed to Con A.