The dangers of indoor chemical pollution
I read with interest the article [on photocopiers] posted on your website. I am pastoring a church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I have a church member who works in a toner refill company. The company uses used laser printer cartridges and refills it to sell at a lower cost. This church member has been working there for the past 4-5 years. Recently she noticed an abnormal loss & thinning of her hair. I am concerned whether this hair loss could be attributed to the fact that she is working in this company. I understand from her that the wearing of masks, etc. is not properly controlled in her work place. What do you think? Thank you for your time. God bless & Shalom!
- Peter, Malaysia
Hi Peter, your friend is definitely at risk for developing serious health consequences beyond the loss of her hair due to exposure to photocopier toner cartridges. If she absolutely needs to remain at that job, wearing a mask should be an utmost priority, not only at her work station, but from the moment she enters the workplace. Disposable rubber gloves are also a must. Please see the letter below for more information on exposure to carbon black toner. Thanks for writing, and Shalom to you, too! - Silent Menace
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I live in Italy, I want to inform you about the consequences of the carbon black. I have worked as a photocopier technician, and the carbon black (toner contents) has provoked a urothelial cancer, with the export of a kidney and e bladder part. Many doctors won't know the consequences of carbon black. Now my first desire is that of informing the doctors and workers about the consequences of carbon black, because in Genoa (Italy), 42 workers exposed to the carbon black have had the recognition of the professional disease (similar urothelial cancer). Besides the carbon black is used in tires plants, and there are also workers with bladder cancer.
Other toner's diseases are MCS, Sarcoidosis, lung's disease. A new disease connected to toner is the Antiphospholipid Syndrome (website http://www.ima.org.il/imaj/ar08jan-13.pdf).
- R.S. Italy
Thank you for sharing your story, R.S., and for the link to a most important health risk story. - Silent Menace
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I would like more information on the subject of photo copiers. My managers are in the process of putting a very large copier in the reception area with several workers, I am not happy about this, and have brought this up with my manager who has assured me there are not risks.
Our copier is a very large one, and it does not have a toner cartridge, but toner powder that we do have must be tipped in to the copier. I would like to know more about this, as there is also a young pregnant lady who works in the area.
- Y.M. United Kingdom
As you can see from the two letters above, Y.M., carbon black is a very dangerous chemical compound, especially if you're exposed in any way to the toner powder. There's no way all of the minute particles are going to behave and land in the copier; a portion are undoubtedly going go become airborne, and unless you and your co-workers have decided to give up breathing, this poses a serious health risk. Your manager ought to educate him or herself on the dangers of this chemical and this refilling procedure before proclaiming that this machine and procedure pose no risk.
It might be beneficial to you to contact the copier's manufacturer for the specs on the required minimal space that this machine requires. Most of these manuals should be accessible through the internet, in, most likely, PDF files. If, for example, the copier's manufacturer requires 92 square feet of space, and your managers have squeezed it into anything smaller, you most likely would have legal grounds to counter this. - Silent Menace
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At certain times of the year, my workplace has at least a half a dozen printers running at the same time. We have had air studies done -- but of course they were done over a weekend when nothing was running. At the end of summer, we all wrote complaints to the director and insisted on being provided with masks to cover our noses (which we were given). I guess they didn't like the way it looked when outsiders came to the building because just last week almost all of the printers have been moved into a separate room well away from where we have our desks. There will be a ventilation problem in the new "production room," but we will fight one thing at a time. I have kept your information in my files for future use, as I am sure at some point it will be necessary. Thank you for sending it to me.
(Name and Location Withheld)
You're quite welcome for the article on photocopiers, and congratulations on your victory. It's not unusual for management to insult workers' intelligence and concerns by doing something such as conducting an air quality test when none of the machines in question are running. The masks the company provided, however, need to be questioned. If they were mere paper or cloth dust masks, they were worthless in filtering out fumes, just as those that workers at nail salons often wear; against toxic fumes, dust masks provide only a "feel good" solution, with absolutely no protection. The only proper respiratory protection against fumes is an INOSH (International Occupational, Safety & Health)-approved respirator with replacement filters; the kind that looks like a gas mask. (Cost is about $30; most paint stores and big-chain hardware places carry them.) Thanks for the follow-up! - Silent Menace
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I work in an office with my workstation next to the mailroom, which is a small room used for a color copier/fax/printer, postage meter, supplies, etc. It has no ventilation whatsoever, aside from the doorway to the room, which is about 5 feet from where I sit. My concern at this point is more about what I am breathing rather than simply disliking the smell.
Fortunately, my employer is, I think, willing to try some things to remedy the situation, but they will require me to do research and present my case before deciding if and how much corrective measure to take. We did not have this machine in this office when I was pregnant, fortunately. At least then, if there was ozone in the air I was breathing, it was not at the level that I could smell it.
Please mail me a copy of your 'Photocopiers' article. Thank you.
- A.R. Vermont
Enclosed is your complimentary copy of Silent Menace's 'Photocopiers' article. The fact that the machine is not ventilated is most crucial. What you appear to have going to you, A.R., is that your superiors may be open to correcting the situation. That's a rarity. After all, it's not only your health that's at stake, along with long-term side effects from exposure to these fumes, it's theirs as well. Good luck! - Silent Menace
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I have worked next to a photocopier for the past 6 years. In August we acquired a new color copier & in September I began noticing symptoms. I don't know if hey are due to the new machine or whether I have just reached my threshold of tolerance. The symptoms include an unusual dryness in my nasal & throat passages. I experienced sleep disturbance also at night, waking up with a very dry throat. I have also been experiencing some strange neurological symptoms that I am suspicious of being connected. I experience a type of "zapping" of nerve endings -- just quick & occasional -- in a 1" band at the top of my forehead at the hairline. Of course the unbreathable air during the large print jobs goes without saying.
I am concerned that I will feel long-term effects in 5 or 10 years that will be debilitating & also impossible to connect to the source, i.e. the copier. The companies say there are no harmful effects from their products, but those working closely with the machines have strong suspicions to the contrary & that they are difficult to prove.
- B.N. British Columbia, Canada
Your letter is quite moving, B.N., and frightening. If there is a bright side to your scenario, at least you're feeling the effects from what is obviously your work environment now instead of a decade or so later when your nervous system might be even more decimated, possibly beyond recovery. If management doesn't acknowledge this silent menace and the fact that it will be years before toxins from photocopiers are officially recognized for the threat that they are, your best bet might be to move on, and literally, clear out. Thanks much for sharing. - Silent Menace
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Thank you for responding so quickly. Our office copier and printer are located directly on the other side of my cubical wall (I share a cubicle with my boss). We both seem to have headaches almost daily, and everyone in our front office complains of sinus problems. We all agree that our problems must be from the recirculated, stale, dry air. I had read an article on copier/print fumes at one time, and knew that they were dangerous. Your article confirms that for me. I will pass it around for my co-workers to read. We are currently working on moving the copier and printer to a separate room. Hopefully, this will help.
- T.M. Ohio
Glad to hear the boss is in the trenches with you, T.M., and not some absent figurehead tucked away in the seclusion of an ivory tower office. You're fortunate to have someone as such working with you. - Silent Menace
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I was interested to read that toner has been related to sarcoidosis, and would like further info as I have serviced copiers for the last 28 years and was diagnosed with sarcoid of the lungs 7 years ago. At present I am on long term disability.
- K.W. California
As time goes by, K.W., it's most assuredly that more and more conditions of yours will unfortunately surface. All our best. - Silent Menace
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I was suddenly made ill with respiratory and plenty of other disturbances a few hours after working intensively with a photocopier. Despite the fact that I quickly recognized the photocopier as the cause of my troubles which were becoming even worse as months passed doctors said that I had nothing wrong and the copier had nothing to do with whatever my problems might be. I was dismissed from work and I was left in misery both from health and finances. This happened in 1984 in Spain and it took me 5 years of clean air to get fully recovered.
Then in 1994 exactly the same disease reappeared a few days after working next to a smelly laser printer in England, which I know now that they are technically similar to photocopiers. Every time I breathed intensively the smells from these machines exactly the same disease happened: difficulty to breathe in, chest pain and oppression, inability to sneeze despite continuous need, fatigue, cough, stomach and other disturbances and an extreme intolerance to all chemicals in the air. I have discovered that this is called multiple chemical sensitivity, and I saw in the internet that it is often associated by people to office machines, although occupational health departments seem very interested in blaming other things instead of these machines.
- M.R.E. Holland
Most companies, occupational health departments and even doctors will often blame anything but the obvious, and it's disheartening to see that such denial isn't restricted to national borders.
You're right about the laser printers. Google "dangers of laser printers" and you'll discover a host of credible medical articles on the hazards of these machines.
The silver lining of all of this, M.R.E., may be to view your Multiple Chemical Sensitivities as a blessing. For without being so sensitive to something as dangerous as indoor chemical fumes would be like not feeling a hot pan when accidentally picking it up and holding onto it, only to realize afterwards that you have suffered permanent damage. Same thing with your lungs. Let's hope you can move on once again, away from the indoor chemical dangers you described. Thanks for sharing. - Silent Menace
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I have worked for 13 years in an enclosed and unventilated room with two large photocopiers. I often complained about the smell and the fumes, but little was done to provide adequate ventilation. Three years after retirement I have [been] diagnosed with Interstitial Lung Disease. is there any connection between my work situation and my newly-diagnosed lung condition?
Thank you for your informative article.
- V.W. Australia
Thank you for sharing your diagnosis, V.W., however disheartening. It appears that the connection between your diagnosis and the photocopiers is obvious.
And, of course, the powers-that-be not only will have ignored your concerns over the years, but will most likely continue to deny the relation. As pointed out in the article, photocopiers are simply too new, and as part of the powerful chemical industry, whose interests for profit have always outweighed public health, injustice will prevail for quite some time. All our best to you. - Silent Menace
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30 year journey from copier poisoning and no ventilation for 40 hours a week for four months. Need to find out how to get funded for chelation therapy [the administration of agents to remove heavy metals from the body] and low-temperature sauna.
- R.O., New Jersey
Sorry to hear about your condition. As for finding out how to get funded for treatment, we wouldn't know where to start, as Silent Menace focuses on the dangers of indoor air pollution. If Googling and other internet seaches don't produce results, you're welcome to post comments on the 'Forum' section of this website. Perhaps other readers can help. Thanks for writing. - Silent Menace
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We have a Toshiba E series 451c at work and the receptionist sits in front of it all day. She just became pregnant. Is this dangerous for her? The machine is the fax and copier. We do not make tons of copies all day; we print on a normal level.
- C.D., Florida
We checked Toshiba's website: They have a 450 and a 452 copier listed, but no 451. We also inquired into www.msds.com. You might try to call Toshiba: 1-800-GO-TOSHIBA.
You should be able to get the MSDS (material safety data sheet) from the machine, which is often packed with the print cartridge. If management tries to object, assure them that "any chemical importer" (that is, any workplace that introduces any sort of classified chemical into the office/shop/etc.) is required by law to produce a MSDS. Don't let them bully or b.s. you! Contact your OSHA office for verification of your rights.
Regarding the pregnant receptionist, we would be concerned about any output of chemical fumes that may not be properly ventilated or the levels of safe exposure that have yet to be determined. - Silent Menace
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I live in a retirement building. Recently, we hired a new office manager [who] installed an automatic-dispensing air freshener. For about a month I had not been feeling well, I felt dizzy, my pulse was higher and my blood pressure was up. She told me the product would stay since I'm the only one who has complained. I found my way to your web site and wanted something I could show her in print. I also told her what your web site was and she did see it for herself. She still dragged her feet about taking the batteries out of the freshener. So I may just make copies for the other residents so they can see what dangerous things are in the products. Especially since she told me "All products are approved for use in a public setting or they would not be on the market." So I really appreciate your article - and thank you very much.
- FMB, Maryland
The argument that these products must be safe as they're approved is unfortunate, FMB, as it must be remembered that leaded gasoline, DDT and asbestos were also once approved and used widely for years before their dangers were officially recognized and they were banned. Your manager could always, of course replace the chemical "fresheners" with cedar chips and live plants. - Silent Menace
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I have been working in a clinic for about a year with a timemist automatic sprayer in our hallway that sprays mist right over our heads and sprays the mist directly in our eyes and mouths. I have had Bronchitis twice in the last two months.
After pulling one of the cans from the machines and seeing that they were spraying acetone, propane and other chemicals that I was breathing in, I started shutting off the sprayers and had a confrontation with one of my managers that told me that I needed to leave them on. I disregarded what she said and continued to shut them off. The next day I was written up for insubordination.
I would like to go to human resources and fight this disciplinary action but would like to know if there are any resources or agencies that ... can help me with proven facts about aerosol misting.
- Name & Location Withheld
You're right on in questioning those timemist chemical air "fresheners" and the effects they have on your -- and everyone's -- health. In a clinic of all places. Now they're even offered through major retailers such as Wal-Mart for anyone to buy in abundance and install in their homes to firsthand poison their families.
Unfortunately, these things are too new, and the test of time has yet to be determined on the long term -- or short term -- health effects.
You asked about resources or agencies that may be able to assist you. Foremost is OSHA, which clearly states:
"The employer shall maintain in the workplace copies of the required material safety data sheets (MSDS) for each hazardous chemical, and shall ensure that they are readily accessible during each work shift to employees when they are in their work area(s)...."
Again, employers or places of business that cannot or refuse to produce a MSDS are in violation of the law.
So whoever ordered those timemists and had them installed must produce a MSDS for them. OSHA then can determine what "allowable" limits of these chemicals are. And don't forget: if your doctor diagnoses you as chemical sensitive, you may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would forbid your employer not to subject you to such needless chemical exposure. - Silent Menace
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I'm trying to advocate for a senior, cancer survivor, working in an environmentally unhealthy factory with an insensitive boss. Unfortunately, my friend is afraid to "make waves," but I'm hoping to talk her into showing her boss the [Air "Fresheners"] article along with her doctor. Personally, it was an eye-opener that I plan to share with many people. Thank you for the work you do for a healthy environment.
You're quite welcome, J.R. And on the behalf of your friend and others, thank you for what you're doing. - Silent Menace
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I thank you for this information. It is great to be informed. I am saddened how many people are unaware of what they are breathing in. Especially just because someone wanted to mask an unwanted odor. After a brain tumor I never want to be exposed again. Thanks again for the much needed information.
You're precisely right regarding these chemical air "fresheners." All they do is mask unwanted odors while most are unaware of their dangers. Thanks for the follow-up. - Silent Menace.
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This is such a wonderful site. What are my options with an employer if they do nothing about my fellow employee's use of plug-in air fresheners? I am getting ill from this ... I can hardly breathe at work. I've cracked a window and trying to go outside constantly, but what is so weird is that no one else in my office seems to have a negative reaction, as I do ... my headaches, etc. start a half hour after I arrive at work. It's very stressful and I would appreciate your advice on the matter.
- M.O. North Carolina
Foremost, M.O., OSHA requires that any importer of chemicals into a workplace must produce a MSDS (Materials Safety Data Sheet). If one cannot be produced, that employer is in violation of the law.
First, try (I'm sure you have) educating your employer as well as those assaulting you with those chemical air "fresheners." If the problem persists, (in other words, if they do nothing, as is often the case, as you'll be labeled a troublemaker), then perhaps you can see your doctor. If he or she determines that you are chemical sensitive, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, if a problem that's affecting your ability to breathe can be easily remedied, then according to law, your employer must abide.
These are two powerful assets at your disposal. Don't be afraid to use them. - Silent Menace
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Information on your site indicates that 1,4 DCB is a common component of air fresheners. However, the product examples do not appear to contain 1,4 DCB. I am especially interested in the Time Mist Air Freshener because I believe it may be the source of a low-level VOC detect from a drinking water system where this product is now being used, but the MSDS does not specify 1,4 DCB.
- G.M. Wisconsin State Government
The information on 1.4 DCB, of course, was a quote from a MSN article. (For our Readers: According to the EPA, primary exposure to DCB -- or dichlorobenzene -- is from breathing contaminated indoor air.) We didn't see this particular chemical listed on the Time Mist products, but that doesn't necessarily mean that DCB isn't present. It could be on such a low level that the chemical company isn't required to reveal it, just as fragrance companies may be excluded from publishing whatever poisons might be in their products.
You can try to contact the wonderful people who make these products to inquire for a more specific chemicals listing. - Silent Menace
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Our neighbors use a tremendous amount of air fresheners. The micro-climate between our houses causes the warm rising air on the sunny west side of our house to suck in the fumes inundating our yard. I have talked to the neighbors and it seemed to increase. Could you send me information on the detrimental effects that I could give them? If they knew how much it hurts them, they may stop. The house is a group home and the staff uses the chemicals. What can I do to make these things illegal? Thanks.
- M.W., California
Most of what is researched and reported on in Silent Menace pertains to indoor chemical air pollution, regulations covered by OSHA, the Americans with Disabilities Act, etc. If the source of the problem is from a building, however -- especially if the building is commercially operated -- OSHA may be able to be called in to conduct an air quality test in that building. Enclosed nonetheless is a PDF copy of the Silent Menace 'Air "Fresheners"' article; perhaps there just might be enough brain cells remaining in the operators' noggins for it to do some good.
As far as making these chemical air "fresheners" illegal, there's probably not much outside of public awareness that you can do. We're talking about the chemical industry, an offshoot of God O.I.L., which has well-paid lobbyists and powerful allies in government. Thanks for writing, and good luck! - Silent Menace
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My son is in a daycare center. They used to use air fresheners but after my persistent demands they have taken it off from the wall. However, recently the center went through an annual evaluation, and the reviewer didn't like the smell (without the air freshener, toddler's room can sometimes smell bad) and requested the air fresheners to be reinstalled on the wall.
Of am of course very concerned and anxious. I will talk to them again, in hoping that they can understand the harm. Any information you can give me would be helpful. Thank you for your information and education. You are doing a very important thing for human beings. I am not exaggerating.
- G.H., New Jersey
Thank you for your inquiry, G.H., and especially for your kind comments. Attached in PDF format is the Silent Menace article on chemical Air "Fresheners." As pointed out in the article, the only reason these products are legal in the U.S. is because the chemical industry has very powerful lobbyists with lots of financial resources. And just like with cigarettes (also a powerful US lobby), these products are exported worldwide often without restrictions. Turning the legal tide, thus, is virtually impossible. Our only recourse, is education and awareness. And it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to question what our children are being exposed to. Please keep us posted. - Silent Menace
Here is the bad news: My son's daycare center has decided to use plug-in air fresheners, regardless that I educated them of the harmfulness and offered alternative natural ways to remove odor. Reasoning? It's approved by the state regulation. Some people are adamant to change or just choose the convenient way. Or maybe they don't see the immediate consequences so they just ignore it.
We appreciate the update, and sorry to hear the bad news. Either these people didn't read the article in full or they have acorns for brains, unable to absorb the message. The plug-ins are the worst. Who knows what kind of chemicals are in the fragrances, many banned by the same government that so many gullible people put so much trust in but are permitted on the market due to loopholes, compliments of the very powerful chemical lobbies that manipulate our so-called representatives.
Our advice: Pull your child out of there, and find a day care with some degree of intelligence. Let other parents know, too. All our best! - Silent Menace
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I was at work and started smelling propane or gas of some kind. After thinking we were going to blow up the gas company detected odor from air fresheners. I was shocked.
- J.H., Minnesota
We wouldn't be surprised, J.H. Not only are those metered products often overused (Ie: more units than the recommended amount in one location), but many are used as hand-held regular sprays, drastically increasing the amount of chemical poisons in the air. - Silent Menace
Thank you for your research and discovering what was missed on our part. Your comments are very much appreciated. - Silent Menace
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I am concerned because I understand that moth balls cause all sorts of cancers, etc... and a neighbor has recently taken to throwing moth balls all over her 5 acres to keep deer away from plants. When I walk by with neighbors, the stench is so bad we all try to hold our breath. Our entire street is also on well water and I wonder what the environmental consequences were.
- A.K. Ohio
Yes, the chemical breakdown is going into your ground/well water. Even if all the moth balls were picked up today, there's undoubtedly enough soil damage there to leave ground water contaminated for years. It'd be in your best interest to get on bottled water right away and contact your local EPA. As this use of moth balls is most likely against the manufacturer's suggested use, the practice you described is certainly illegal. - Silent Menace
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Please email the article on mothballs and the danger of having them in your home. My sister thinks they will keep the spiders away, and her house and everything that comes in and goes out smells of mothballs, even in a very short period of time.
She has just had an emergency splenectomy, and the cause of her bleeding/ruptured spleen is unknown. She hasn't been in an accident in order to rupture her spleen. She also has a multitude of other illnesses. Thank you.
- L.D. Oklahoma
There most certainly may be a link between exposure to the chemicals in moth balls and your sister's splenectomy, L.D. The spleen is an organ, and like glands, organs function by bodily fluids entering them, the fluids becoming concentrated or altered, and the organ or gland secreting either a cleansed fluid or another substance. If something as deadly as naphthalene or para dichlorobenzene (PDB) entered the bloodstream in above "acceptable" amounts and was concentrated in the spleen, the chemicals certainly could have had an adverse effect. All our best for your sister's recovery. - Silent Menace
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I unfortunately took the advice of someone who said moth balls would keep rodents out of the attic. I spread a box of moth balls in the attic space, about 1,000 square foot area. The odor is so strong in the house that it makes it very uncomfortable. Is there anything that will neutralize this odor?
- R.S. Florida
Nothing will neutralize the odor of moth balls, R.S. The only probable way you'll get the odor -- and the moth balls -- out of the attic may be to replace the insulation. Even if you managed to retrieve each and every moth ball, the insulation has undoubtedly absorbed the moth ball chemical ingredients (naphthalene and para dichlorobenzene) like a sponge, and may remain saturated.
Whether you clean out the insulation yourself or if you hire someone to do it, be sure and INOSH-approved vapor respirator (not just a dust mask) is worn to filer the fumes; it will also offer protection, of course, from inhaling the dangerous fiberglass particles. - Silent Menace
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I had used your product, putting it in a hole in the corner of my patio. I did this in the summer for a snake that was in and out of the hole. When I returned home last evening, I noticed a very strong odor ... above the place where I had put the moth balls. The odor is not a moth ball smell, but a smell of acetone or something like that. Do moth balls chemically change in odor? I have had my family check to see if they can find anything, but they cannot, only that the odor is still strong in this area. Please reply ASAP. Thanks!
- D.S. Pennsylvania
While we regret to hear about your troubles, we at Silent Menace are at a complete loss as to why you would refer to moth balls as our product. We not only do not condone of the use of moth balls, (napththalene and para dichlorobenzene), but believe that such a dangerous chemical, easily obtained and misused by many pea-brains, should be banned.
Who knows what these dangerous chemicals may be interacting with . One thing is for sure: if moth balls were sprinkled anywhere on your property, especially if concentrated in a specific spot as you have indicated, they have undoubtedly saturated the ground; how deep is anyone's guess.
Again, moth balls are not our product. By not reading the manufacturer's instructions (their legal way of not getting sued by misusers of their product), you have used this dangerous chemical in a way other than it was recommended. You most likely have no legal recourse, and your only probable alternative is to have the soil dug up and removed. - Silent Menace.
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I am wondering what I can do about my neighbor putting moth balls outside along our fencerow. The smell is HORRIBLE! I have a 7-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old dog. What can we do? Thank you for your time.
- J.D., Pennsylvania
You're quite welcome, J.D. Our advice: Contact your local EPA immediately. Spreading napththalene and para dichlorobenzene on the ground (the two key ingredients in "moth balls," both classified as highly toxic and can effect the nervous system) is most likely against the manufacturer's recommended use. This idiot neighbor isn't only putting your daughter and dog at risk and fowling the air, but the chemicals are seeping into the soil, poisoning your groundwater. - Silent Menace