Although cytosolic glutathione S-transferase (GST) enzymes occupy a key position in biological detoxification processes, two of the most relevant human isoenzymes, GSTT1-1 and GSTM1-1, are genetically deleted (non-functional alleles GSTT1*0 and GSTM1*0) in a high percentage of the human population, with major ethnic differences. The structures of the GSTT and GSTM gene areas explain the underlying genetic processes. GSTT1-1 is highly conserved during evolution and plays a major role in phase-II biotransformation of a number of drugs and industrial chemicals, e.g. cytostatic drugs, hydrocarbons and halogenated hydrocarbons. GSTM1-1 is particularly relevant in the deactivation of carcinogenic intermediates of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Several lines of evidence suggest that hGSTT1-1 and/or hGSTM1-1 play a role in the deactivation of reactive oxygen species that are likely to be involved in cellular processes of inflammation, ageing and degenerative diseases. There is cumulating evidence that combinations of the GSTM1*0 state with other genetic traits affecting the metabolism of carcinogens (CYP1A1, GSTP1) may predispose the aero-digestive tract and lung, especially in smokers, to a higher risk of cancer. The GSTM1*0 status appears also associated with a modest increase in the risk of bladder cancer, consistent with a GSTM1 interaction with carcinogenic tobacco smoke constituents. Both human GST deletions, although largely counterbalanced by overlapping substrate affinities within the GST superfamily, have consequences when the organism comes into contact with distinct man-made chemicals. This appears relevant in industrial toxicology and in drug metabolism.