Toxic Tuesdays

CHEJ highlights several toxic chemicals and the communities fighting to keep their citizens safe from harm.


Naphthalene is a solid chemical that easily evaporates. It is commonly found in coal, mothballs, and the manufacturing of polyvinyl chloride. Manufacturing, industrial releases, improper disposal of industrial waste, and consumer use can release naphthalene into the environment. Once released, naphthalene can evaporate into the surrounding air, dissolve in water, and stick to soil. Volatile organic compounds like naphthalene can adhere to particulates and travel with them through the environment. Breathing contaminated air, drinking contaminated water, or touching contaminated soil can expose people to naphthalene.

Naphthalene exposure can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, and vomiting. It can also kill red blood cells, causing anemia. Studies in animals have shown that breathing naphthalene-contaminated air can cause nose and lung tumors. Because of this, the US Department of Health and Human Services and the International Agency for Research on Cancer have both concluded that naphthalene likely causes cancer in humans.

In North Birmingham, Alabama, the Greater-Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution (GASP) is fighting to improve air quality and protect residents’ health. Locally, the group People Against Neighborhood Industrial Contamination (PANIC) fights to bring residents relief from industrial contamination. Multiple rounds of outdoor air testing in 2019 and 2020 found high levels of naphthalene at several locations in the community. These levels were many times higher than the threshold at which the US Environmental Protection Agency says cleanup and remediation must occur to protect people from cancer. This means that the naphthalene in the North Birmingham air poses a serious risk of causing cancer to the people who breathe it. GASP is fighting for clean air free of chemicals like naphthalene through education and advocacy. CHEJ is working with GASP and PANIC to help them raise awareness and achieve clean air that is safe to breathe.

Learn about more toxics