Tropical medicine & international health : TM & IH 2011 10 0417(1) 135-8 doi 10.1111/j.1365-3156.2011.02885.x

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.

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.

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

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.