Answer Man: Can I use mothballs to keep mice out of my BBQ grill?

News-DemocratNovember 8, 2013 

'Tis the season for those pesky mice to seek warm places to "hang out"! My back porch BBQ grill seems to be high on their list. Mothballs have been suggested as a deterrent. Would the odor flavor the meat -- and are there any other risks? -- Bob Frost

I remember my mom frequently talking about one of our neighbors, whose house always reeked of mothballs.

To be fair, my mom used mothballs, too, but limited their use to where you could only smell the things if you opened a closet door. On the other hand, my neighbor's house smelled as if she had sprayed it with a mothball variety of Glade.

Either way, I didn't mind because I found the smell rather pleasant. Little did I know what my neighbors and I were breathing into our lungs.

Back then, I remember them referred to as "camphor balls" because camphor apparently was a major ingredient in some. Solid camphor releases fumes that were thought to not only repel insects, snakes and other pests but their fumes also would coat metal to prevent rust.

Obviously, anything that strong might not be good for humans -- and it wasn't. In 1980, the Food and Drug Administration set strict limits on its use and banned anything with camphor oil or camphor liniment.

Well, guess what? Today's mothballs are no safer, which is why no credible expert would approve of using them in a barbecue grill.

Mothballs today are nearly 100 percent naphthalene or paradicholorobenzene, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Both are pesticides that can repel and kill pests as they slowly turn into toxic gas.

Even breathing the fumes (let alone eating them) can cause nasty consequences. As naphthalene is broken down in the body, it can cause anemia as well as kidney and liver damage. In animals, it attacked the eyes and lungs and entered the milk of cows. Paradicholorobenzene also can wind up in the blood, fat and breast milk. Both are considered potential carcinogens by various health agencies.

For those reasons, the poison center urges users to follow label directions to the letter.

"It's only meant for use in airtight containers as an insecticide," a spokesman told me.

He says his center often gets callers wondering if they can place mothballs around the perimeter of their gardens to scare off rabbits and other varmints.

"One of the potential pitfalls of this is that those vapors -- in addition to going into the air -- can potentially land on the vegetables," he said.

Similarly, he has to caution people who use them to repel pantry moths and then find their food smells of mothballs.

"And we don't really know if it would be effective for your reader because most of those products aren't designed as a repellent for animals," he said

So while you might be able to scrub the stink and harmful residue from your grill next spring, you would be safer in finding another way to keep creatures from stirring around your house this Christmas -- including those mice.

Find more about mothballs and other pesticides at npic.orst.edu.

More on Abe: My friend and local historian William Shannon IV chuckled when he read my recent column about claims that Abraham Lincoln argued cases at the Alexander County Courthouse in Thebes.

"I'll bet every old courthouse in the state claims that Lincoln showed up there," said Shannon, curator of the St. Clair County Historical Society. "He would have had to be trying cases morning, noon and night for his entire life to get to all of those."

In reality, Shannon said, there are only "2 1/2 courthouses" in the state today that can prove conclusively that Lincoln argued cases there.

Two are still standing: The Mount Pulaski/Logan County Courthouse, built in 1848, saw the young attorney Lincoln regularly arguing cases in the second-floor courtroom as he honed his law and speaking skills. The other is the Metamora Courthouse, which was on the Eighth Judicial Circuit that Lincoln traveled.

The "1/2" is the replica of the Postville Courthouse, which was constructed in 1953 on the original site to commemorate Lincoln's appearances there on the Eighth Circuit. Postville was once the seat of government in Logan County -- but changed its name to Lincoln after his assassination.

"It's one of those things where if you're up in the Springfield area doing all the Lincoln sites, it's an easy trek (to Lincoln and Mount Pulaski). They're actually both really neat museums."

For times and locations, go to www.illinois.gov/ihpa and search for the courthouses.

Today's trivia

What city is believed by many to be named for Shalem, who was worshiped by the Jebusites as god of the evening?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: In 1963, famed music producer Phil Spector decided to take a chance on an unknown 17-year-old named Cherilyn LaPiere. At first, he used her as a backup singer on such hits as the Ronettes' "Be My Baby." But in 1964, he let her cut her first single, "Ringo, I Love You," under the pseudonym of Bonnie Jo Mason, because Spector liked American names for his singers and LaPiere didn't sound American. The recording on Annette Records went nowhere, but LaPiere's career was about to soar. We know her today as Cher. You can hear her sing, "Ringo, I love you yeah, yeah, yeah, more than anything in this world ..." on YouTube.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-236-2465.

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