Risk of brain damage in babies from naphthalene in mothballs: call to consider a national ban

William O Tarnow-Mordi, Nick J Evans, Kei Lui and Brian Darlow, on behalf of the Advisory Committee of the Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network
Med J Aust 2011; 194 (3): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2011.tb04203.x
Published online: 7 February 2011

To the Editor: About 5% of Australians of Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Mediterranean descent have glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency.1 Affected babies can develop massive haemolysis within hours of exposure to clothes stored with mothballs containing naphthalene. It has long been known that this results in severe jaundice, which may lead to kernicterus2 and profound brain damage, for which the cost is either a lifetime of dependency and very expensive care, or death.

  • 1 WINNER Centre for Newborn Research, University of Sydney, Westmead Hospital, Sydney, NSW.
  • 2 Department of Newborn Care, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, NSW.
  • 3 Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Royal Hospital for Women, Sydney, NSW.
  • 4 Christchurch School of Medicine, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand.



We acknowledge the Advisory Committee of the Australian and New Zealand Neonatal Network for endorsing this letter. We thank Judith Kirby, Department Head, NSW Poisons Information Centre, for providing the data in the Box.


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