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Moth Balls are Bad

Big Girl has a lot of clothing. A. Lot. A LOT. I went a little crazy when she was born, buying so much that many of her outfits were only worn once or twice. (Editorial note: I have calmed down a lot as my concern about the environment has grown.) Anyway, since so much of what she owns was in such great condition I bagged it up in Space Bags, and put it in the attic. Unfortunately, before zipping up the 3T stuff, I also did something that, in retrospect, was really stupid: I added moth balls.

Most of us probably remember or have used moth balls. Small, smelly white things, they are used to help prevent insect and pest infestation in stored clothing. Carpet beetles, moths, and mice, among other things, hate the smell of moth balls. I do, too, actually, and for good reason. The key ingredient of mothballs is naphthalene or para-dichlorobenzene, which, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is dangerous stuff. “Inhaling para-dichlorobenzene can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, respiratory distress and other illnesses. Swallowing it can damage the nervous system and, in extreme cases, can cause coma or death.” Oh, and it effects your red blood cells. Here’s the EPA’s product fact sheet on the stuff. Babies and children are especially vulnerable as deaths of preemies and infants have been reported after exposure. Nice.

As usual, the European Union is WAY ahead of the United States when it comes to this dangerous chemical. It banned the pesticide in 2008. The reasoning, of course, is that when you open up clothing stored in moth balls, you are inhaling the pesticide. If you can smell it, you are inhaling it. That’s probably why pediatric doctors in Australia and New Zealand are also trying to get the substance banned.

I totally understand why. I opened up my Space Bags three days ago and almost fell over from the smell. I put both bags outside hoping the smell would dissipate. Today, the smell is still just as strong as it was when I first broke the airtight seal. All those beautiful clothes have been rendered unwearable. I’m not sure what I am going to do. Thankfully, I only used moth balls on the 3T stuff, and decided pretty soon after that moth balls were dangerous and stupid so my 4Ts will be as moth ball-free as the 2T, 18 month, and infant stuff was.

So what’s the take-away? Why should you care? It bears a reminder that just because something is sold at the store doesn’t mean it’s healthy or safe to use, especially around children. Here I thought I was doing something smart, and I was doing something extremely stupid by adding a chemical to clothing that would have gone on my kid’s skin. It’s also a reminder to be especially careful when taking out heirloom or stored clothing that may have been stored with the chemical. Moth balls are bad news. Protect your kids, and protect yourself.

And what about all those gorgeous clothes sitting in my backyard? Yesterday I dumped them into a mesh bag. I’ll check them again next week, however I anticipate I’ll be making a trip to the stores soon. I’m thinking it will be fall (at the earliest) before we’ll be able to use them!

3 Responses to “Moth Balls are Bad”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Will it wash out?

  2. kathy says:

    My grandparents should have grown 3 arms then. Their entire house smelled of mothballs as long as I remember. Something about old people and moth balls, they love them

  3. Rachel P. says:

    Just so you know for future reference, our grandmothers didn’t have moth balls. They lined their linen closets and trunks with cedar. It has the same insect repelling powers but is completely natural.

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