Phenol (carbolic acid or hydroxybenzene)
A caustic, poisonous, white crystalline compound, C6H5OH, derived from benzene and used in resins, plastics, and pharmaceuticals and in dilute form as a disinfectant and antiseptic.
Why this substance is hazardous
- Phenol is extremely poisonous and corrosive. It can be absorbed across intact skin. As it initially may have anaesthetic effects, the phenol may cause extensive tissue damage before the casualty feels any pain. Deaths have been reported for exposures of 25% or more of body surface area
- Acute exposure can damage the eyes and cause blindness, severe burns or systemic poisoning through skin contact
- Chronic exposure can cause sensitization and affect the central nervous system, liver and kidneys
Phenol and its chemical derivatives are essential for the production of polycarbonates, epoxides, nylon, detergents, herbicides such as phenoxy herbicides, and numerous pharmaceutical drugs.
Recommended control measures
Phenols are controlled substances (Poisons UCL ref either PA012 or PA039) – see information on standards for all controlled chemicals.
Minimise the risk of exposure
- Never heat or melt phenol in dry heat, an incubator, microwave, drying oven or similar appliance, only use a water or oil bath
- Always ensure there is adequate ventilation, vapour does not form readily at room temperature but only heat in a fume cupboard
- Storage. Do not store with, acids, strong oxidisers, calcium hypochlorite or aluminium chloride. Waste should be stored in a correctly labelled glass container
- PPE. Wear neoprene gloves, depending on the task consider double gloving. Wear a chemical-resistant apron over lab coats and goggles rather than glasses if there is splash risk
- Small exposure - remove and double bag contaminated clothing, wipe exposed skin with polyethylene glycol (molar mass 300) commonly called Polyethylene Glycol 300 or Macrogol 300 until the phenol can no longer be smelt (a distinct, sweet acrid odour detectable to humans below the WEL).
If polyethylene glycol is not available water can be used but it must irrigate the area (running water if possible) for at least 20 minutes. 50/50 Polyethylene Glycol/Isopropyl Alcohol (PEG/IPA)
- Large exposure - treat as small exposure but consider the logistics of treatment, it may be more effective to place IP in an emergency shower than to wipe the skin with polyethylene glycol.
For any exposure seek medical advice as soon as possible.
WELS STEL = 16mg/m3 (4ppm) and TWA = 7.8 mg/m3 (2 ppm). Procedures must be in place to ensure the WEL is not reached or exceeded.
Decontamination of undiluted phenol
Includes carbolic acid, hydroxybenzene, monohydroxybenzene, phenyl alcohol, phenol hydroxide.
- Small liquid spills of 50 ml or less
- May be absorbed using paper towels, or commercially available absorbent
- Place waste in a sealed container or double plastic bags.
- Spills larger than 50 ml
- Remove ignition sources
- Provide adequate ventilation
- Evacuate the area
- Close the doors, and
- Call UCL security 222
Chemical safety library
> Read more about control measures for chemicals in our chemical safety library
Last updated: Thursday, June 24, 2021