Environmentalists find ‘massive amount’ of mothballs at Coronado National Forest picnic site

Children, pets and wildlife could mistake them for food or candy

Environmentalists find ‘massive amount’ of mothballs at Coronado National Forest picnic site
Members of the Tucson Reptile Museum said they found mothballs scattered near a picnic site Thursday morning. (Source: Tucson Reptile Museum)

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A group exploring the Coronado National Forest shared concerns after stumbling upon a “horrific” discovery Thursday morning, Oct. 17, - that being a sizable amount of mothballs left at a picnic site.

Elisabeth Scoville is the founder of the Tucson Reptile Museum, a nonprofit organization focused on educating the community on native species and environmental conservation.

Scoville and other board members were walking through the Peppersauce Campground when she said they found a “massive amount” of mothballs near one picnic site.

Mothballs use naphthalene or paradichlorobenzene as its main active ingredient, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. The pesticide slowly turns from solid to an inhalable vapor, making it very toxic.

The small balls of chemical pesticide can also be dangerous if they are chewed or eaten. The National Pesticide Information Center warns that children, pets and wildlife may mistake them for food or candy and eat them. One mothball can cause serious harm if eaten by a small child.

Scoville said the group quickly searched the campground and found, with relief, the mothballs appeared to just be at the one campsite. But, not far from an area filled with with insects and life buzzing, the damage had already been done.

“It was really hard not to cry. We were all very, very upset," Scoville said. ”We were running between angry and wanting to just sit and sob because this has a huge effect and people don’t understand. ... Everything was just dead. Grasshoppers, butterflies, wasps, everything, just dead."

The myth about mothballs is that many believe they can repel snakes and bugs. Instead, mothballs are meant to be used in air tight containers and storage spaces.

Scoville believes a family may have scattered the balls during a picnic over the weekend to ward off insects.

“To see people willing to devastate the environment that much over something as simple and basic as some flies out in the wild was just — it was heartbreaking," Scoville said.

DO NOT USE MOTHBALLS OUTSIDE! DO NOT USE PESTICIDE IN STATE PARKS OR NATIONAL FORESTS! I can’t believe we’re having to...

Posted by Tucson Reptile Museum on Thursday, October 17, 2019

Using any pesticide except for personal use as an insect repellent or with special approval is a violation in a national forest.

Even though the group spent an hour picking up the mothballs, there were few still hidden at Peppersauce on Thursday evening, not far from where deer were walking.

“I think, far too often, we let people get away with things that are detrimental to the environment because of that ignorance factor and the reality is, at this point in time, we can’t afford that anymore," Scoville said.

Scoville said the group filed a complaint with the Environmental Protection Agency and notified the law enforcement agency within the U.S. Forest Service.

A spokesperson with the Forest Service said they take incidents of this kind seriously. If the Coronado team can determine who left the mothballs, the individual could be held accountable.

Officials are asking anyone with information about the incident to call Forest Service law enforcement at 520-305-1897.

Copyright 2019 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.