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Dear Abby 11/09

Man's mania for mothballs could put household at risk

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I have reached an impasse about — of all things — mothballs. We were remodeling our house last spring, and tiny moths showed up in the bottom story. "Arnold" (my husband) went to the store and brought back mothballs for his closet, which is on the second floor. I told him they smelled horrid, but understood he was trying to protect his clothing. The moths never went to the upper level, and no one in our family had moths in his or her closet.
    The moths are long gone, but the mothballs remain. Every time Arnold opens his closet, the smell makes me sick to my stomach. There are times when he forgets and leaves his closet door open; our bedroom reeks of mothballs and I wind up feeling dizzy.
    When I ask Arnold why he still has them, he says he wants to "freshen" his clothes. I can't imagine how anyone can find that smell "fresh." I have requested that he replace them with cedar blocks or baking soda. He refuses to consider it.
    I have begun to think it has become a power struggle, and it's probably not about the mothballs to him at all — although to me it is. Marriage counseling is not an option. I've suggested it before when we've had problems, and he refuses to go.
    Do you know anything about the safety of mothballs with children in the home (we have four, ranging in age from 12 months to 12 years). Maybe if he sees something in print, he will reconsider for the sake of the children. -- WORRIED IN COLUMBIA, MD.
    DEAR WORRIED: As a matter of fact, I do happen to know something about the subject because it was addressed in my column a year and a half ago. A woman in New Jersey was worried about her grandmother, who stored her winter clothes in a basement closet filled with mothballs, and the odor had saturated her house and everything in it.
    A woman from California responded to that letter, sharing that her mother's home had also been filled with mothballs, and her clothes reeked of the odor, too. Her mother had complained about the same nausea and dizziness that you say you have. The mother's doctor chalked it up to "vertigo."
    A couple of years later, the writer visited her mother and awoke experiencing the same symptoms. When she got home and mentioned it to her doctor, she was told she had been poisoned by the mothballs! And after the mother was eventually moved to a convalescent home, her "vertigo" disappeared within months.
    There are warnings on the container about the toxicity of mothballs and the danger of too much exposure to the vapors. The main component of mothballs, I was informed, is naphthalene, an aromatic hydrocarbon, which can cause neurological problems, as well as hemolytic anemia, kidney and liver damage, and cataracts. This is a poison that is meant to kill insects, and humans and other mammals are not immune to its effects.
    If your husband's clothes need "freshening," they should be laundered or sent to the cleaners. And if he still refuses to listen to reason and get rid of the mothballs, he could be guilty of child endangerment. This is one "power struggle" it's vital that you win.

    CONFIDENTIAL TO "WANTS TO SLUG HIM" IN LOUISVILLE: I would strongly discourage your use of corporal punishment on your son. The late Red Buttons said it best: "Never raise your hands to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected."

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