Abstract Naphthalene is a ubiquitous pollutant, and very high concentrations are sometimes encountered indoors when this chemical is used as a pest repellent or deodorant. This study describes the distribution and sources of vapor-phase naphthalene concentrations in four communities in southeast Michigan, USA. Outdoors, naphthalene was measured in the communities and at a near-road site. Indoors, naphthalene levels were characterized in 288 suburban and urban homes. The median outdoor concentration was 0.15 μg/m3, and a modest contribution from rush-hour traffic was noted. The median indoor long-term concentration was 0.89 μg/m3, but concentrations were extremely skewed and 14% of homes exceeded 3 μg/m3, the chronic reference concentration for non-cancer effects, 8% exceeded 10 μg/m3, and levels reached 200 μg/m3. The typical excess individual lifetime cancer risk was about 10−4 and reached 10−2 in some homes. Important sources include naphthalene’s use as a pest repellent and deodorant, migration from attached garages and, to lesser extents, cigarette smoke and vehicle emissions. Excessive use as a repellent caused the highest concentrations. Naphthalene presents high risks in a subset of homes, and policies and actions to reduce exposures, for example, sales bans or restrictions, improved labeling, and consumer education, should be considered.
Long-term average concentrations of naphthalene in most homes fell into the 0.2–1.7 μg/m3 range reported as representative in earlier studies. The highly skewed distribution of concentrations results in a subset of homes with elevated concentrations and health risks that greatly exceed US EPA and World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The most important indoor source is the use of naphthalene as a pest repellant or deodorant; secondary sources include presence of an attached garage, cigarette smoking, and outdoor sources. House-to-house variation was large, reflecting differences among the residences and naphthalene use practices. Stronger policies and educational efforts are needed to eliminate or modify indoor usage practices of this chemical.