Did you know that mothballs, moth flakes, crystals, and bars are insecticides? They come in a solid form that slowly gives off a toxic gas that kills clothes moths and other insects. Mothballs in the U.S. contain very high concentrations of the chemical naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene as active ingredients. They are meant to be used in closed, airtight containers so that the fumes they produce are trapped. The trapped fumes build up and kill any clothes moths inside. If mothballs are used out in the open, they can harm people, pets, or wildlife that may touch or eat the mothballs, or breathe their vapors.
Each active ingredient can cause different health effects if the exposure is high enough. Mothballs slowly turn from solids to toxic vapor. When you smell mothballs, you are inhaling the insecticide. Mothballs can also be dangerous if they are chewed or eaten. Children, pets, and wildlife may mistake them for food or candy and eat them. One mothball can cause serious harm if eaten by a small child.
If someone has swallowed a mothball, call the California Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 for emergency medical advice. If you think your pet has eaten a mothball, contact your veterinarian or one of these emergency resources.