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Free Content Health risks of using mothballs in Greater Accra, Ghana

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Objective  Internal use of ‘camphor’ is a potential public health concern in Accra. We sought to identify the toxins being sold as mothballs in Greater Accra and use this information to help educate both clinicians and the public.

Methods  Mothballs are commonly sold by street and marketplace vendors in unmarked cling film‐wrapped packs. Fifteen small packs of mothballs were purchased from random vendors in three major markets and six roadside stands in Greater Accra. All samples were subjected to the float test; one sample was confirmed by gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy.

Results  All samples sank in tap water but floated in a saturated salt solution, consistent with naphthalene. The analysed sample was identified as naphthalene.

Conclusion  Naphthalene was most likely the primary ingredient in all the mothballs purchased for the study. Naphthalene is poorly soluble in water, and ‘camphor water’ is unlikely to cause harm. However, ideas about the efficacy of ‘camphor’ as a purification tool may lead to therapeutic misuse by analogy. A high prevalence of G6PD in the Ghanaian population may increase the risk of toxic haematologic effects from ingestion of mothballs. Mothballs known in Greater Accra as ‘camphor’ are likely to be predominantly naphthalene. A public awareness campaign about the health risks of mothball ingestion is planned.
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Language: English

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1:  New York University and the New York City Poison Control Center, New York, NY, USA 2:  Ghana Health Services and the Ghana Poison Control Center, Accra, Ghana

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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