Chemicals in the News: Naphthalene

Last updated 7 June 2011

What is naphthalene?

Naphthalene is a solid, white material with a very distinctive odour.  It works to protect clothing in storage by releasing vapour that is toxic to moths and silverfish.

Naphthalene products registered to control moth and silverfish are available in solid block, ball (‘moth balls’) or flake formulations.

Background to action on naphthalene flakes

Academics from the University of Sydney wrote to the APVMA seeking a review of naphthalene mothballs. Their submission raised a particular concern that babies, particularly those with a specific genetic condition (GP6D deficiency) possessed by about five percent of Australians of Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent, have an increased risk of brain damage if directly exposed to the chemical.

In response, the APVMA sought advice from the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) as to whether there was any new information that could trigger a review of the registration status of naphthalene products in Australia.

Advice from the DoHA was that naphthalene loose flake products may pose an ingestion risk to babies and infants, and may present a greater potential for high vapour levels to develop around treated clothing, bedding and other stored items.

Ongoing investigation

The DoHA has referred consideration on the adequacy of packaging and labelling of all naphthalene products to the Advisory Committee on Chemical Scheduling (ACCS) (external site). This committee recommends how chemicals should be scheduled including specific requirements for labelling and packaging designed to protect public health.  The ACCS provides advice on agricultural, veterinary, industrial, domestic and personal use chemicals.

Action taken in June 2011

Action has been taken to stop supply of the following products, meaning they will no longer be available for sale until further notice:

This action has been taken because the advice of the DoHA to the APVMA is that loose naphthalene flakes may pose an undue risk to human health.

Product manufacturers are responsible for directing a stop sale in all parts of the supply chain.

Additional action may be taken against other naphthalene products should the ACCS recommend changes to packaging and labelling.

Advice to consumers

People can dispose of unwanted products by contacting their local council to determine the correct method of disposal. Unwanted products should not be disposed of in household waste. Treated clothing can be washed in accordance with clothing manufacturers’ instructions or aired in an open place until the naphthalene odour is no longer present.

Restrictions currently in place

Current product labels warn of dangers to children from sucking and swallowing, and prohibit use on the bedding of infants and in the bedrooms of young children. Some naphthalene products are available in tamper-proof packaging to prevent children from accessing the chemical. 

Current registration status in Australia

There are currently 12 naphthalene products registered to control moth and silverfish in the home. These are available in solid block, ball or flake formulations.

A further five naphthalene products are registered for use in veterinary, plant growth regulation and domestic situations (wheelie bins).  

Registration status in other jurisdictions

The United States and Canada, in 2008 and 2009, conducted re-registration reviews of naphthalene mothballs and flakes. These reviews confirmed their safety subject to changes to packaging, application rates and label changes.

Naphthalene mothballs and flakes have not been available in the European Union since mid 2009. They were withdrawn following a lack of commercial interest by manufacturers (external PDF, 41kb) in funding new studies to support the chemical in a European review of biocide products.

More information

Media Inquiries

Phone: +61 2 6210 4812
Mobile: +61 467 726 486

Last updated on 11 January, 2013

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