Ladd\'s Student Microscope (circa 1864)

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A crystalline white hydrocarbon, naphthalene is well known for the aromatic odor it gives to moth balls. Derived from coal tar, it is used to manufacture plastics, dyes, solvents, and other chemicals. It is also used as an antiseptic and insecticide. The naphthalene molecule consists of two benzene rings sharing two adjacent carbon atoms and has the chemical formula C10H8.

Naphthalene is the major component of many types of moth balls, which have been used historically in clothing storage to kill adult and larval forms of the clothes moth. Eggs laid on fabric hatch into larvae that feed by chewing the cloth, causing damage to the fibers. Other types of moth balls contain paradichlorobenzene instead of naphthlalene.

In some areas of the country, it is a common practice to place moth balls throughout living areas to control odors as well as insects. This has occasionally led to problems of naphthalene toxicity when too many moth balls are used. Excessive naphthalene exposure can cause symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, malaise, confusion, anemia, jaundice, and renal disease.


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