The dangers of indoor chemical pollution


Moth Balls

Andrew Segal and his young family had birds in the attic of their suburban Atlanta home.  They called in a local pest control company, whose solution was to sprinkle about 250 mothballs around in the attic.  The mothballs got rid of the birds, but they also ran the family out of the house.  Andrew remembers, "It didn't matter where you were in the house, the smell was all over the place.  My wife started having severe headaches.  I had really lost my appetite."

         But it was their baby that worried them.  She was two-weeks old and premature, and her crib sat dangerously close to the attic stairs.  The Segals read the back of the mothball box, which stated: "May be fatal if inhaled."  Andrew contacted the Georgia Poison Control Center.  "They started telling me all the potential problems of respiratory distress, nausea, vomiting, and prolonged exposure can cause kidney failure and other things.  And I'm thinking, from mothballs?"

         The Segals not only had the mothballs removed, but found it necessary to replace all of the insulation in the attic, which had absorbed the odor.  Furthermore, some of the birds that were supposed to be run off never made it out of the attic; the mothballs had killed them.

         "If it would kill the birds," Andrew Segal said, "it can't be doing wonderful things for people who are breathing it."  [1]

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as a way to deter moths from nesting and feeding on woolen clothing, primarily in sealed places such as closets.  A few of the white, sweet-smelling moth balls would be placed in closets, and seeing how effective they worked, despite precautions by the product manufacturers not to use the product other than instructed, many people expanded use of moth balls by sprinkling them throughout the inside of their homes as well as outside to repel rodents and snakes. 

he key ingredient in moth balls is naphthalene, a widely-used and highly-manufactured chemical.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified naphthalene as a persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) chemical. [2]   A PBT does not readily break down in the environment, does not easily metabolize, and may be hazardous to human health or the environment. The EPA has also classified naphthalene as a high priority PBT chemical. 

aphthalene enters the human body through inhalation or passing through the skin.  Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may damage or destroy red blood cells. Some symptoms include fatigue, lack of appetite, restlessness and pale skin. Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may also cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and blood in the urine. [3]   What mothers-to-be inhale, so does baby: the developing bodies of unborn children are especially susceptible to naphthalene poisoning. 

aphthalene is an incredibly dangerous chemical.   A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a listing of chemicals and their dangers required by the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OHSA) to be included by any "chemical manufacturer or importer."  MSDS's on naphthalene warn that naphthalene is harmful if swallowed or inhaled, causes irritation to skin, eyes and respiratory tract, and may affect liver, kidney, blood and central nervous system.  Furthermore, MSDS's state that inhalation of dust or vapors can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, extensive sweating and disorientation.  The predominant reaction is delayed intravascular hemolysis (the dissolution of red blood cells) with symptoms of anemia, fever, jaundice, and kidney or liver damage. 

nother key ingredient in some brands of moth balls is para dichlorobenzene (PDB). According to a chemical profile listing of PDB conducted by Cornell University, PDB is has an acute (high) toxicity, and people who were exposed to PDB to a prolonged length of time developed anorexia, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, as well as death. [4] 

s stated previously, naphthalene does not break down in the environment; moth balls used outside wear away to seep right into the ground water.  Since water treatment plants do not remove PBT's, the use of moth balls outside contributes to a poisoning of our drinking water.  Furthermore, water used on farms and vegetable gardens may include PBT's. 

ot only is naphthalene hazardous, it is one of the most unnecessary chemicals manufactured.  There isn't anything that naphthalene accomplishes that we cannot do without.  What began as an effective way to kill moths has blossomed into a widely-used means of repelling other pests. 

he very fact that naphthalene is so effective on moths as well as repelling rodents and snakes demonstrates the mere fact that it is a deadly chemical.  If it has such an effect on pests, it goes without saying that it is equally dangerous to humans.


If you have moth balls in your house, get rid of them.  If your business, school or day care uses moth balls, have them discontinue their use; do not continue to be subjected -- yourself as well as others – especially children – to this poisoning.  Moth Balls, however, shouldn't merely be tossed into a garbage can, but need to be sealed in a plastic bag, and the package double-sealed such as setting it inside a coffee can that can be taped tightly shut. 
It's not only your responsibility to protect yourself from moth ball poisoning, but others as well:.  


[1] Mothball Danger,
 , December, 2005

2] , Naphthalene, Chemical Profile

[3] ibid

[4] Para dichlorobenzene (PDB) Chemical Profile 1/85


Thank you for the information above, but putting the mothballs in in double-sealed plastic bags and tossing the entire package in the landfill (garbage) seems counterproductive to the intent of the message.  What else can be done to 'get rid of' these little white balls of poison?
- L.R., May 2011
North Vancouver, BC, Canada

You bring out a very good point, L.R., and we agree: sealing Moth Balls in plastic and tossing the package in a landfill is indeed counterproductive.  But the manufacturer certainly doesn't offer any safe method of disposing of their poisonous products.  Enoz Old Fashioned Moth Balls website states in disposal directions: "If [the box is] partly Filled: Call your local solid waste agency or 1-800-CLEANUP for disposal instructions. Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain."  Enoz Old Fashioned Moth Balls).

The fact is that once Naphthalene is created -- the prime ingredient in Moth Balls, a neurotoxin classified by the EPA as a high priority, persistent, bio-accumulative and toxic (PBT) chemical -- it has to go somewhere: in the air through evaporation, into our water supply by consumers who dispose of Moth Balls by flushing them down the drain or into our ground water by those who "throw them away" into our landfills.  
As advised by Enoz, we called 1-800-CLEANUP to see what it recommends for Moth Ball disposal.  A completely automated system that instructs the user to enter the first letter of the product in question, no options for Moth Balls are available when "M" is entered. 
Enoz Old Fashioned Moth Balls are manufactured by Willert House Products, 4044 Park Street, St. Louis, MO, 63110, (Willert Home Products).  A phone call to a customer service rep resulted in the following advice on proper disposal of Moth Balls: "Place them in a paper, not a plastic bag, and just dispose of them," we were told.  When asked what happens to the Moth Balls in the paper bag, she replied, "They disintegrate."  We informed the rep that Moth Balls are made of naphthalene, a proven neurotoxin, and that by disintegrating, they go right into the groundwater, and concluded by asking her, "That's not too bright, is it?"  She agreed that it wasn't, and after placing us on hold while she went to check with someone within Willert, she said that someone would call us back with a better answer.  After three hours, no call came; nor after a reminder voice message to the rep was left.
As stated on the Enoz Old Fashioned Moth Balls website, we called our local waste management company, which happens to boast in its Statement of Purpose "To deliver total waste stream solutions and provide environmental confidence ... while doing our part in stewardship of our planet's resources."  A call here was greeted by a rep who advised us to simply "throw them away into the trash."  When we informed her that Moth Balls were made with naphthalene, a dangerous neurotoxin, and thus, can be classified as a hazardous material, she said she "did not know that."  This rep, too, put us on hold while she got advise with others at the company.  When she returned, she said she had checked with several others who all said they had no idea that Moth Balls posed any health dangers.  One co-worker even idiotically advised her to tell us to just "sprinkle them outside around the house, that they're great for keeping snakes away."  (How's that for environmental confidence?)
The bottom line is this: Moth Naphthalene Balls are a product that should never have been manufactured, let alone permitted by anyone of any age and mental capacity to purchase them and use them who knows how.  "Moth Balls" are a quick and dangerous answer to a rather simple situation: woolen clothes in closets can easily be protected from moths with a variety of natural products, chiefly cedar chips. 
Unfortunately, many people misuse this product and/or dispose of them without any regard of the consequences.  The people who manufacture this product and those we spoke with who supposedly safeguard our environment were completely ignorant of this product's dangers. 
Placing containers of "moth balls" in a plastic bag and sealing it with duct tape may not be the best answer to dispose of them, as the plastic and tape will definitely eventually degrade.  But neither the manufacturer or a major waste management company could offer any safe recommendations.  We are certainly open to suggestions.
We at Silent Menace thank you for your concern and for writing:.



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