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A Common Household Chemical That Can Cause Lung Damage

Researchers at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report that exposure to a chemical found in mothballs, air fresheners, and toilet deodorizers can cause lung damage and possibly even lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

The chemical in question is called 1,4-dichlorobenzene or 1,4-DCB. If you know what mothballs smell like, you know exactly what 1,4-DCB smells like. 1,4-DCB is a volatile organic compound - a chemical that is given off as a gas from common household products.

Researchers found that people with the highest blood levels of 1,4-DCB performed 4 percent worse on lung function tests than people with the lowest blood levels of 1,4-DCB.

Four percent may not seem significant, but this "modest reduction" in lung function can translate to serious health complications for people who already have lung challenges, like asthma, or for the young and elderly, who may not have strong immune systems. For example, a study published in 2005 found that children between 6 months and 3 years of age face a risk of developing asthma that is in direct correlation to their exposure to 1,4-DCB in their homes.

How To Minimize Your Exposure to 1,4-Dichlorobenzene

  1. If you use mothballs to repel insects, replace the mothballs with cedar blocks. If you don't know where to find cedar blocks, type "cedar blocks" into your favourite search engine and you will find several sources. Sand your cedar blocks with fine sandpaper about once a year to keep them aromatic and effective at repelling insects.

  2. Don't use diaper pail deodorants, which commonly give off a steady dose of 1,4-DCB. If you choose to use diaper pail deodorants, be sure to at least keep them outside of your baby's room so that your baby is not exposed to fumes while he or she sleeps.
  3. Avoid conventional room deodorizers, especially if they give off a mothball-like scent. The best way to keep your home or work environment smelling fresh is to clean on a regular basis with non-toxic cleaners. Vinegar diluted with water is excellent as a multi-purpose cleaner. carries a diverse line of non-toxic, industrial strength cleaning agents that are far better for your health than most conventional cleaning solutions.
  4. Don't use urinal and toilet bowl blocks/deodorizers that smell like mothballs. Again, regular cleaning with vinegar or non-toxic cleaning agents is your best bet of keeping your toilets smelling fresh and preventing unnecessary lung damage.
  5. Strive to breathe as little as possible in public restrooms that smell strongly of mothballs. Just don't pass out!

Low to moderate-level exposure to products that contain 1,4-DCB can cause lung damage. Over time, steady exposure to large amounts of 1,4-DCB can cause a variety of health challenges such as headaches, dizziness, eye irritation, liver damage, and kidney damage.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has stated that 1,4-DCB "may be reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen."

The state of California has gone further in stating that 1,4-DCB is a human carcinogen.

Regardless of how products that smell like mothballs are classified now and in the future, it certainly won't hurt your health to be mindful of the five points listed above on how to minimize your exposure to 1,4-Dichlorobenzene.


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