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Naphthalene, a white solid that evaporates easily, is produced from coal tar and petroleum. It is used as a moth repellent and in production of other chemicals, especially for making polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics. Burning tobacco, wood, or fossil fuels, such as petroleum and coal, produces naphthalene.

The Tracking Network includes biomonitoring data on the concentration of naphthalene metabolites, 1-hydroxynaphthalene (1-naphthol) and 2-hydroxynaphthalene (2-naphthol), in urine from NHANES participants aged 6 years and older. Levels of 1- and 2-naphthol in urine reflect recent exposure. Finding a measurable amount of 1- or 2-naphthol in the urine does not mean that the level of the chemical causes a health effect.

A gas fireplace.

Exposure and Risk

Naphthalene enters the environment from burning of wood and fossil fuels. Homes where naphthalene moth repellents are used can have large amounts of naphthalene in the air. Cigarette smoke contains small amounts of naphthalene that can be absorbed from the lungs when the smoke is inhaled. Cigarette smokers have two to three times more naphthalene metabolites in their urine than nonsmokers.

Naphthalene can be absorbed through the skin when moth repellent is touched or from wearing clothes stored with moth repellent. Workers may be exposed by breathing air or handling naphthalene when it is being produced, during coal coking operations, or when treating wood with creosote.

Exposure to high amounts of naphthalene can cause hemolytic anemia and jaundice. Naphthalene vapor can irritate the eyes and respiratory tract.

Read about prevention tips to reduce your and your family's exposure to environmental chemicals.

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