The Basics



What is naphthalene?

  • Naphthalene is a white, crystalline, aromatic solid best known as the primary ingredient of mothballs. It is derived from coal tar, is a naturally-occurring component of petroleum-based fuels.

What are the current uses of naphthalene?

  • Naphthalene is used in the production of plasticizers, resins, dyes, pesticides and insect repellents.

Why is naphthalene on the DoD Emerging Contaminants Action List?

  • Naphthalene is a constituent (<1-3%) in all petroleum-based transportation fuels including JP-8 which is the DoD’s universal fuel.
  • Recent research studies have found that naphthalene may be carcinogenic via the inhalation route of exposure leading DoD to invest in more health risk research and fuel sampling efforts. EPA is looking to establish a toxicity benchmark for naphthalene in its database of chemical risk values, the Integrated Risk Information System (IRIS). The classification of naphthalene as a carcinogen could significantly alter environmental/occupational health and safety regulations, likely affecting the majority of DoD operations related to fuel.
  • Occupational health programs would have to determine if there is a need to implement new personnel protective measures.
  • A variety of DoD operations, maintenance, and disposal functions would be affected should naphthalene be re-classified as an inhalation carcinogen.
  • Land restoration efforts at DoD installations would also be affected if new toxicity benchmarks led to more stringent cleanup standards.
  • DoD does not use significant amounts of naphthalene as a stand-alone product. It is a component of other products such as fuels and some pesticides.
  • DoD uses billions of gallons of petroleum-based fuels annually in a variety of mobile applications such as aircraft, tanks, trucks and ships. In addition, fixed applications such as generators, stoves, and heaters rely on these fuels. Thus, the storage, handling, and transport of naphthalene-containing fuels could present opportunities for exposure among DoD personnel.

How is DoD managing the risks posed by naphthalene?

  • DoD adheres to all Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements to protect its workers who come in contact with naphthalene. DoD provides personnel training, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, air monitoring, and medical surveillance.
  • DoD has taken response actions in coordination with state and federal authorities to address environmental concerns at over 1,000 sites with fuel spills.
  • DoD participated with regulators and other stakeholders in a “State of the Science” conference in 2006 to identify critical science gaps on toxicity and develop a more comprehensive human health risk assessment.
  • DoD is conducting a survey of the naphthalene content of fuels currently used in the field.
  • DoD has initiated a Small Business Innovation Research grant to develop a tool for assessing worker exposures to naphthalene. This tool, called a “dosimeter,” could be useful in collecting data both indoors and outdoors and for future EPA chemical risk assessments.

Where can I get more information?

NPT Napthalene fact sheet from the 11th Report on Carcinogens (PDF)

This is the NTPs fact sheet on naphthalene from the 11th Report on Carcinogens

Last Modified: 01 October 2015 at 07:00