Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond

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Naphthalene in Moth Balls and Toilet Deodorant Cakes

Naphthalene, the active substance in moth balls, is used to deter moths and silverfish from eating fabrics. It is also commonly used in toilet deodorant cakes. While highly effective in preventing insects from destroying stored clothing and eliminating toilet odours, if breathed of consumed naphthalene can be dangerous to both pets and humans, especially infants.

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Naphthalene, the active substance in moth balls, is used to deter moths and silverfish from eating fabrics. It is also commonly used in toilet deodorant cakes. While highly effective in preventing insects from destroying stored clothing and eliminating toilet odours, If breathed of consumed naphthalene can be dangerous to both pets and humans, especially infants. The following information from NSW Health is intended to guide consumers in the safe use of products containing naphthalene.

What is Naphthalene?

Some moth balls and toilet deodorant cakes contain a substance called naphthalene. Naphthalene is a solid, white material with a distinctive odour, and it is found naturally in fossil fuels like coal and oil. 

How can I be exposed to Naphthalene?

Naphthalene exposure can occur if you breathe air that contains naphthalene, if you drink liquids containing naphthalene, or if products containing naphthalene are touched or accidentally eaten. Be aware that you can also breathe in naphthalene vapours from clothes that have been stored in moth balls.

What effect can naphthalene have on health?

Exposure to very large amounts of naphthalene can cause damage to blood cells, leading to a condition called haemolytic anaemia. This condition has been seen in people, particularly children, after they have eaten moth balls containing naphthalene. Some of the symptoms that may occur after exposure to large quantities of naphthalene are fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. The skin may become pale or yellow-coloured.
 
Newborn babies are particularly at risk of damaging their blood cells if they are exposed to naphthalene. The damage to their blood cells releases a product (bilirubin) that makes the baby go yellow and in very severe cases can cause brain damage. Some people are born with a genetic blood condition (G6PD deficiency) which makes them more susceptible to the effects of naphthalene, so symptoms can be seen after exposure to even only small amounts of naphthalene.
 
If any of these symptoms occur after exposure to naphthalene, you should immediately consult a doctor. There is no direct evidence that naphthalene can cause cancer in people.

How should naphthalene be used safely?

Moth balls containing naphthalene are generally safe for use around adults and older children, if used correctly and in the right quantity. Australian guidelines recommend that the use of naphthalene is restricted around children under three years of age. This means that children’s blankets and clothes should not be stored with mothballs containing naphthalene, and moth balls should not be used in young children’s rooms or in areas where young children may be present or have access to.
 
If children’s blankets and clothing have inadvertently been stored with naphthalene moth balls, they should be aired outdoors to remove any odour and washed before they are used. It can be very dangerous if moth balls are eaten, so it is especially important that mothballs are stored 
well out of the reach of small children and pets. Additionally, if you or one of your direct family members has been diagnosed with a genetic disorder of 
the blood, products containing naphthalene should be avoided.
 
Further advice concerning the health risks of naphthalene can be obtained 24 hours a day, 7 days a week Australia wide from the NSW Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26, or from local Public Health Units.
 

Metropolitan

Areas

Location

Number

Rural Areas

Location

Number

 

Northern

Sydney/Central

Coast

Hornsby

02 9477 9400

Greater

Southern

 

Goulburn

02 4824 1837

 

 

Gosford

02 4349 4845

 

Albury

02 6080 8900

South Eastern

Sydney/

Illawarra

Randwick

02 9382 8333

Greater

Western

 

Broken Hill

08 8080 1499

 

 

Wollongong

02 4221 6700

 

Dubbo

02 6841 5569

 

Sydney South

West

Camperdown

02 9515 9420

 

Bathurst

02 6339 5601

 

Sydney West

Penrith

02 4734 2022

Hunter/New

England

Newcastle

02 4924 6477

 

Parramatta

02 9840 3603

 

Tamworth

02 6767 8630

 

Justice Health Service

Matraville

02 9311 2707

North Coast

Port Macquarie

02 6588 2750

 

 

 

 

Lismore

02 6620 7500

 
See full details of Public Health Units at www.health.nsw.gov.au/publichealth/infectious/phus.asp

Interpreter Services

If you require assistance with contacting above services or translation, please call Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 13 14 50. 
For other multilingual health information visit www.mhcs.health.nsw.gov.au