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Glossary - Naphthalene

Also known as naphthalin, bicyclo[4.4.0]deca-1,3,5,7,9-pentene, or antimite, and not to be confused with naphtha, is a crystalline, aromatic, white, solid hydrocarbon with formula C10H8 and the structure of two fused benzene rings.

Naphthalene is best known as the traditional, primary ingredient of mothballs.  It is volatile, forming a flammable vaporous, and readily sublimes at room temperature, producing a characteristic odour that is detectable at concentrations as low as 0.08 ppm by mass.

Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may damage or destroy red blood cells.  Humans, particularly children, have developed this condition, known as heamolytic anaemia, after ingesting mothballs or deodorant blocks containing naphthalene.  Symptoms include fatigue, lack of appetite, restlessness, and pale skin.  Exposure to large amounts of naphthalene may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, blood in the urine, and jaundice (yellow colouration of the skin).

When the U.S. National Toxicology Program exposed male and female rats and mice to naphthalene vapours on weekdays for two years, male and female rats exhibited evidence of carcinogenic activity based on increased incidences of adenoma and neuroblastoma of the nose, female mice exhibited some evidence of carcinogenic activity based on increased incidences of alveolar and bronchiolar adenomas of the lung, and male mice exhibited no evidence of carcinogenic activity.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies naphthalene as possibly carcinogenic to humans and animals [Group 2B].

The IARC also points out that acute exposure causes cataracts in humans, rats, rabbits, and mice; and that heamolytic anaemia, described above, can occur in children and infants after oral or inhalation exposure or after maternal exposure during pregnancy.  Over 400 million people have an inherited condition called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency.  Exposure to naphthalene is more harmful for these people and may cause heamolytic anaemia at lower doses.


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