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Mothballs for Critters?

Q: I have a critter who bites the buds off many perennials. I have found by putting mothballs around the plant, they let it alone.

Will a chemical from the mothballs seep into the soil and damage it in time? Incidentally, this seems to work well.

A: I'm not really sure if the chemical in mothballs will leach into the soil and make it toxic.

Mothballs contain either of 2 chemicals -- napthalene or paradichlorobenzene (a long word even for linguiphiles!).

Para-DCB is considered by some to be a carcinogen, but coffee contains known carcinogens, too. Moral: be careful when handling anything.

Anyway, the napthalene would be a safer material to handle, but I don't know how much of it might leach into the soil and/or make it toxic. I have heard of people who have used mothballs to repel cats from their gardens, and even to discourage moles in their runs.

Once exposed to the atmosphere, napthalene rapidly degrades, usually in 3-8 hours. When put on soil, it is absorbed moderately and biodegrades, but may end in groundwater if the concentration is high enough (like a large spill, probably not from just a few mothballs laying on the ground).

I would guess that the napthalene from the mothballs would probably biodegrade within a few days, but I think we should reserve this question for any chemists in our audience.

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Tom Mugridge
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