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Recall of Mothballs & Moth Flakes containing toxic chemicals

Recall of Mothballs and Moth Flakes containing toxic chemicals

All currently available mothball products are being removed from the market as a result of concern about the risk of poisoning to children.

Three agencies are involved in the action. Trading Standards (part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) has contacted distributors and retailers and asked all retailers to remove products from the shelves.

The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has advised that the chemicals in these mothballs are not approved for use as a pesticide and the Ministry of Health is warning the public to return any mothballs they have to the retailer they bought them from or to dispose of them in the rubbish.

Mothballs and moth flakes contain certain chemicals that are toxic. The products contain significantly different concentrations of chemicals – the more concentrated they are the more harmful they are if eaten.

Eating or ingesting these products could be fatal. There have not been any deaths in New Zealand attributed to mothballs but on average every three years, two people require hospital treatment for eating mothballs or flakes. Most (80 per cent) of the cases requiring hospital treatment were children under four years of age.

Mothballs and flakes are banned in Europe and there are restrictions on their use in Australia – they are available in a form that prevents them being swallowed or eaten. Similar products in this form are not currently available in New Zealand, and would need to be assessed by the EPA before they would be able to be imported or manufactured.

Background

The EPA is aware of three chemicals being used in most mothballs in New Zealand:
• naphthalene (in concentrations ranging from 2.5 to 99%)
• camphor
• dichlorobenzene

These chemicals pose a significant health risk to the New Zealand public if eaten or ingested, particularly by small children. There are also concerns about longer term health effects, for example naphthalene and dichlorobenzene are classified as suspected human carcinogens.

If you are worried that someone has eaten mothballs, phone the National Poisons Centre at 0800 0800 764 766. Symptoms can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headache and/or drowsiness within the first few hours of exposure. After 10-12 hours, more serious symptoms can develop including seizures and collapse. Handling mothballs can cause skin irritation, and if mothballs get in the eye can cause irritation to the eye. Dermatitis may occur. Inhaling camphor can cause eye, nose and throat irritation.

If you see mothballs or moth flakes on sale, you can inform the retailer that they should no longer be sold and should be removed from sale. Or call your local DHB public health unit and speak to a health protection officer.

ENDS

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