The War Against Household Moths: Winning, but at what cost?

With the colder season finishing, many of us are returning winter woollies and blankets to the linen cupboard.
For many, there is an ongoing battle against the pesky moths that love to eat our expensive cashmere over summer. Mothballs are often the deterrent of choice, but mothballs are not only hazardous to our tiny winged enemies.

Mothballs are white or multi-coloured, marble-sized solids, which convert from a solid directly to a gas which is toxic to moths.
Mothballs contain naphthalene and/or paradichlorobenzene as the active ingredients. Naphthalene, made from crude oil, is used for its pest repellent and insecticide qualities. Paradichlorobenzene is produced as a fumigant insecticide.

  • Both chemicals are also hazardous to humans, when inhaled, ingested or if there is skin contact.
  • Signs of inhalant exposure include headaches, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, eye irritation, and respiratory irritation.
  • Exposure to the skin can result in a burning sensation. Children’s skin absorbs the chemicals easily.
  • Ingestion of mothballs can result in diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain and painful urination.
  • Naphthalene, when ingested, can cause haemolytic anaemia, and liver and kidney damage.
  • When broken down in the body, naphthalene can affect both the lungs and the eyes before being excreted.

The World Health Organisation has concluded that both paradichlorobenzene and naphthalene are probably carcinogenic, based on animal studies.

Children are most at risk of poisoning as mothballs look like lollies and are often accessible to small and curious hands. Globally every year, thousands of children require medical treatment for mothball poisoning, with some dying and others having to live with the side effects permanently.

This year make your own insect repellent sachets, with lavender, cedar chips, peppermint oil, cloves and rosemary to eliminate the moths and the hazards to you and your kids.

If you believe your child has mothball poisoning, call Poisons Information on 13 11 26.

Contributed by Louise Balston