Phenol is used as a general disinfectant, as a reagent in chemical analysis and for the manufacture of artificial resins, medical and industrial organic compounds and dyes. It is also used in the manufacture of fertilisers, explosives, paints and paint removers, drugs, pharmaceuticals, textiles and coke. It is produced in large volume, mostly as an intermediate in the production of other chemicals.
The largest single use of phenol is as an intermediate in the production of phenolic resins, which are low-cost, versatile, thermoset resins used in the plywood adhesive, construction, automotive, and appliance industries. It is also used as an intermediate in the production of caprolactam, which is used to make nylon and other synthetic fibres, and bisphenol A, which is used to make epoxy and other resins.
Substance name: Phenol
CASR number: 108-95-2
Molecular formula: C6H7O
Synonyms: Carbolic acid, Hydroxybenzene, Phenic, monohydroxybenzene; phenic acid, phenylic acid, phenyl hydroxide; oxybenzene, monophenol, phenyl hydrate, phenylic alcohol; phenol alcohol; phenyl alcohol, phenol reagent, benzenol, carbolic, monophenol, Baker's P and S liquid and ointment, NCI-C50124, NA 2821 Molten RCRA.
Phenol is a colourless to pink solid or thick liquid with a characteristic sweet tar like odour.
Boiling Point: 181.8°C
Melting Point: 40.9°C
Vapour Pressure: 0.36 mm Hg at 20°C
Flash Point: 78.9°C
Phenol is highly soluble in water. Very soluble in alcohol, chloroform, ether, glycerol, carbon disulphide, petrolatum, volatile and fixed oils, aqueous alkali hydroxides. Almost insoluble in petroleum ether.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of phenol emissions in Australia.
Phenol causes local and systemic toxic effects upon entering the body via ingestion, skin absorption (of any phase) or inhalation. Locally, phenol may result in irritation of the nose, throat and eyes, and skin burns. Acute poisoning causes an increased respiration rate, followed by a decreased respiration rate, decreased body temperature, cyanosis, muscular weakness, weak or occasionally rapid pulse and coma. Death is usually the result of respiratory failure. Chronic exposure to phenol is typified by systemic problems. These include vertigo, digestive difficulties, skin eruptions, nervous problems and headaches. Death may occur when liver or kidney problems become severe.
Entering the body
Phenol will enter the body by breathing, through the skin or by ingestion.
Through breathing air contaminated by phenol, by absorption through the skin or by ingesting products contaminated with Phenol.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for phenol through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 1 parts per million (4 mg/m3)
These standards are only appropriate for use in workplaces and are not limited to any specific industry or operation. Make sure you understand how to interpret the standards before you use them.
Drinking water guidelines
There is no guideline for acetone in the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.
Acute toxic effects may include the death of animals, birds, or fish, and death or low growth rate in plants. Longer term effects may include shortened lifespan, reproductive problems, lower fertility, and changes in appearance or behaviour.
Entering the environment
Can be transported by air and water or contaminated products. Phenol does not tend to bioaccumulate.
Where it ends up
Phenol is slightly persistent in water, with a half-life of between 2 to 20 days. The half-life of a pollutant is the amount of time it takes for one-half of the chemical to be degraded. About 26.3% of phenol will eventually end up in air; about 73.3% will end up in water; and about 0.2% will end up in terrestrial soil and aquatic sediments.
Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters (ANZECC, 1992):
Maximum of 50 micrograms per Litre (i.e. 0.00005 g/L) in fresh or marine waters.
Phenol is a common component of oil refinery wastes. It is also produced in the conversion of coal into gaseous or liquid fuels and in the production of metallurgical coke from coal. It may enter the environment from oil refinery discharges, coal conversion plants, municipal waste treatment plant discharges, or spills.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Released as a vapour from natural or human made sources contaminated by or containing phenol.
Phenol is found naturally in animal wastes and decomposing organic material.
Agricultural chemicals, disinfectants (non-agricultural), general antibacterials and antiseptics, household hard surface cleaners (liquid), lubricating oils, automotive chemicals, paint and varnish removers, pharmaceutical preparations, synthetic resin and rubber adhesives, wood office work surfaces (modular systems).
Sources used in preparing this information
- Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) (1992) Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters.
- ChemFinder WebServer Project (1995), (accessed, May, 1999)
- National toxicology Program (accessed, May 1999)
- New Jersey Dept of Health, Right to Know, TRIFacts (accessed, May 1999)
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed January 2019.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018.