Mothballs should be put away forever, say doctors Down Under

Granny alert: wrapping your grown childrens' precious baby things in mothballs so that they can be passed on to your grandchildren may seem like a good idea. But mounting reports of deaths and neurological damage in infants attributed to naphthalene poisoning would suggest old-fashioned lavender or sandalwood would be a better choice to ward off moths.

A team of leading pediatricians from Australia and New Zealand, writing in the Medical Journal of Australia on Monday, called for a ban on naphthalene, the chemical that gives mothballs their distinctive odor and pest-repellent properties. Warnings against wrapping young children in textiles stored in mothballs are required on boxes of mothballs sold in the United States and Down Under. But the four authors of Monday's article -- clinical directors of neonatal units in Australia and New Zealand -- wrote that those have proven inadequate to protect children.

"The safest course is prevention, which would have to be a total ban of naphthalene in mothballs," Dr. William Tarnow-Mordi of the University of Sydney's Winner Center for Newborn Research, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

The United States and Canada conducted reviews of the safety of naphthalene mothballs and flakes in 2008 and 2009, and, subject to warnings required by the EPA website" href="" target="_blank">Environmental Protection Agency, confirmed their safety. The California agency that tracks and measures chemicals' risks to humans and animals cites the EPA in reporting deaths and illnesses of infants exposed to naphthalene vapors in clothes and blankets.

The Australian and New Zealander authors of Monday's recommendation said that poison information centers in the two countries have received more than 100 reports annually of children harmed by moth repellent with naphthalene. In the past three years, they noted, at least one infant's death was attributed to the chemical, and two others exposed to the chemical developed a disorder that destroys red blood cells and leads to brain damage in certain children with a gene variation.

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