(Beyond Pesticides, April 2, 2008) A study that analyzed chemical contamination in clothes found that fabrics absorb high concentrations of moth repellents, and retain these concentrations even after prolonged airing. These contaminated fabrics then serve as secondary sources of indoor air pollution once the chemicals are released back into the air.
Moth repellents, which contain naphthalene and/or p-dichlorobenzene, as well as camphor, have been recognized as major contributors to indoor air pollution. However, their persistence in the fabrics they are used to protect has been underestimated. The study entitled, “Domestic sampling: Exposure assessment to moth repellent products using ultrasonic extraction and capillary GC-MS,” published in Chemosphere, revealed that once cloths are exposed to moth repellents, whether directly or indirectly, high concentrations of p-dichlorobenzene, naphthalene and camphor are detected even after airing.
A regular cotton shirt, for example, placed in a cabinet containing one tablet of moth repellent was found to contain up to 7, 3 and 7.5mg of p-dichlorobenzene, naphthalene and camphor respectively after airing for 1 hour. These concentrations are high when compared with the average exposure to p-dichlorobenzene at about 35 micrograms (őľg), and the average indoor exposure from naphthalene at less than 1ppb. While airing did reduce initial residual concentrations, results showed that airing for 1 hour was insufficient to significantly lower the concentration of the moth repellents in clothing, despite label recommendations.
Exposure to moth repellents- p-dichlorobenzene, naphthalene and camphor, can cause eye and respiratory irritation, headaches, confusion and even loss of appetite. P-dichlorobenzene is also used in air fresheners and bathroom deodorizers and camphor is a component in medications, cosmetics and perfumes. The chemicals are readily adsorbed through the skin and exposure comes from breathing in vapors and through wearing clothes exposed to these repellents.
Naphthalene and p-dichlorobenzene are among the most toxic chemicals detected in indoor air. Naphthalene and p-dichlorobenzene are potential human carcinogens, with naphthalene being linked to nasal tumors in laboratory animals, developed after inhalation of vapors. They have also been associated with Non- Hodgkin Lymphoma and blood disorders, including several types of anemia. Studies have shown reactions including acute hemolysis, jaundice and death in infants wrapped in blankets that had been stored with mothballs. German workers exposed to naphthalene were found to have a variety of cancers – including laryngeal, gastric, nasal, and colon cancer. Based on the adverse effects and the persistence of moth repellents on clothes, the researchers recommend that the use of these harmful chemicals as moth repellents be revised. The US EPA states that mothballs pose a hazard to young children since they can be easily mistaken for candy, or simply tempt young children to touch and play with them.