mothballs
Mothballs may seem harmless, but they are made up of two hazardous ingredients (Shutterstock photo)

There are many so-called “wives’ tales” out there when it comes to keeping a clean and happy home. One of the most common myths surrounding homemaking is the near-legendary power of mothballs to keep any nuisance animal away.

People are quick to purchase a box of the hard, white balls and scatter the contents in attics, closets, basements and even gardens. What many don’t realize, however, is that mothballs are composed of two active ingredients, both of which are potentially toxic to humans and other animals.

What is so dangerous about mothballs?

The two active ingredients commonly found in mothballs are naphthalene and paradichlorobenzene, chemicals which were originally created to deter moths from nesting and feeding on wool clothing.

Silent Menace states mothballs do not readily break down in the environment, and naphthalene is classified by the Food and Drug Administration as a bio accumulative and toxic chemical.

Paradichlorobenzene is also a toxic chemical and is classified as an insecticide, and is used because it turns directly from a solid to a gas to act as a fumigant.

Both chemicals cause negative health effects if they are handled in excessive amounts, and many homeowners who dump an entire carton in the closet will begin to feel ill.

According to the experts, mothballs have no real effect when it comes to deterring nuisance creatures.

“In my eleven years working in the field, I have personally observed well over 100 cases in which homeowners have attempted to use mothballs as a form of pest control, and in not one of the cases was this product effective in the slightest,” David Seerveld, a wildlife removal specialist, told VOXXI. “Naphthalene is cheap, and thus commonly sold as a common deterrent for all kinds of unwanted pests. I have seen it attempted as a repellent for snakes, bats, rats, armadillos, squirrels, raccoons and opossums. I have seen up to 50 pounds of mothballs scattered in an attic in an attempt to remove rodents.”

mothballs
Both the chemicals in mothballs are capable of creating vomiting and nausea as well as more serious health complications (Shutterstock photo)

“Not once in my career have I ever observed mothballs to alter the behavior of a wild animal in any way,” he added. “The rodents in the attic remained, the armadillos continued to use the burrow as if there was no change, and I’ve actively watched snakes slither right over mothball flakes. I have also seen homeowners get nauseated, vomit, and get severe headaches from heavy use of mothballs. Mothballs are a carcinogen to people and poisonous in the environment. They are a flat-out scam, and a harmful one at that.”

What do the chemicals in mothballs do?

Naphthalene is the main ingredient in mothballs, and according to The Risk Assessment Information System, the chemical can be absorbed through the skin, ingested and inhaled.

If a pregnant woman comes in contact with the substance, it has the ability to cross the placenta in amounts high enough to cause fetal toxicity.

People exposed to naphthalene may experience:

  • Hemolytic anemia
  • Confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Vertigo
  • Listlessness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Cataracts
  • Optical atrophy
  • Skin irritation

Some symptoms of toxicity may not appear for days after ingestion or contact, and a number of deaths have been reported from intentional ingestion of naphthalene-containing mothballs.

The Risk Assessment Information System indicates the lethal dose of naphthalene for adults is five to 15 grams compared to two to three grams in children.

While not as prominent as naphthalene, paradichlorobenzene is also harmful to children and adults. The insecticide is distributed in blood, fat and breast milk and can result in symptoms of:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Burning sensation on the skin

The National Pesticide Information Center also cautions paradichlorobenzene may be a carcinogen for people and rats, though the EPA has classified it as “not likely to be” a carcinogen in humans.

 

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