Fact sheet: Phenol

From: Public Services and Procurement Canada

Discover a list of a contaminant's important chemical properties, how it will react in the environment, main sources of contamination related, and a brief overview of health and safety issues.

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General information

CAS number


Molecular formula


Formula weight

94.1 g/mol


Phenolic compounds

Properties (at room temperature where applicable)

Compound properties list
Melting/boiling point41 °CSolid
Relative density1.06 g/cm3Sinks in water
Vapour pressure0.3 mm HgLow volatility
Vapour density3.2Much denser than air
Solubility in water80,000 mg/LVery soluble
Henry's law constant3 x 10-7atm·m3/molSlow volatilization when dissolved
log Koc (Depending on soil or sediment characteristics)1.2 - 3.5*Moderate adsorption to organic matter

Environmental behaviour

At 20 0C, phenol is a solid with low volatility and high solubility. Once it is dissolved, it volatilizes slowly and adsorbs moderately to organic matter. When present in the soil, it volatilizes slowly and dissolves rapidly. Once dissolved, phenol can reach the groundwater table or drain into a waterway, where it will be diluted, before it volatilizes slowly. Fragments of phenol can also be carried into a waterway and deposited at the bottom, where they will rapidly dissolve. Once the source has been removed, the adsorbed phase will disappear quickly, liberating contamination in either the gaseous or dissolved (primary) state. The resulting dissolved plume will be relatively large in size while the gaseous plume will be generally small in size.

Health and safety

Phenol should be handled with care as it is corrosive and toxic.

Principal resources

Pure phenol is produced during petroleum distillation. Phenol can also be synthesized by oxidation of cumene or toluene and by vapor-phase hydrolysis of chlorobenzene. Phenol has not been produced in Canada since 1992 and is now imported.

In Canada, a significant portion of the imported phenol is used in the production of epoxy and other resins (example, phenol-formaldehyde resins), which are used in several industries including casting sand foundries, automotive parts, construction and appliances. Phenol is also used as a binder in insulation, chipboard, plywood and paints. Phenol is used in the manufacture of several products such as plastics, paints, synthetic textiles, pesticides and pharmaceuticals. Phenol is also present in consumer products as a general disinfectant, anaesthetic, and antiseptic.

Phenol is an important by-product of a variety of processes including pulp and paper production, wood milling, manufacturing of non-metallic mineral products, chemical production, steel and metal production and petroleum refining.

Phenol is found in petroleum products such as gasoline, gasohol, fuel oil, aviation fuel, diesel fuel, and high temperature coal tar. Phenol is formed naturally during the decomposition of organic matter and during forest fires. It is also found in coal tar and produced during the photo-degradation of atmospheric benzene.


Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2008. Toxicological profile for Phenol. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. Georgia, U.S.A. (Viewed December 2013)

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. 1999. Canadian soil quality guidelines for the protection of environmental and human health: Phenol (1997). In: Canadian environmental quality guidelines, 1999. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Manitoba, Canada. (Viewed December 2013)

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. 1999. Canadian water quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life: Phenols – Mono- and dihydric phenols. In: Canadian environmental quality guidelines, 1999. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, Manitoba, Canada. (Viewed December 2013)

Direction des politiques du secteur industriel, service des lieux contaminés du ministère de l'Environnement. 2003. Annexe IX: Liste des contaminants potentiels par secteur d'activité industrielle et commerciale susceptibles de contaminer les sols et les eaux souterraines. Dans: Guide de caractérisation des terrains, Terrains Contaminés. Les publications du Québec. Québec, Canada.(PDF, 2.67MB) (Viewed December 2013)

Montgomery, John H. 2007. Groundwater Chemicals, Desk Reference, Fourth Edition, CRC Press, Taylor and Francis Group, Florida, U.S.A.

Ontario Ministry of the Environment. 2005. Ontario Air Standards for Phenol. Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Ontario, Canada. (Viewed December 2013)