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Phenols - total as C

phenol and phenolic compounds

SPRI Emission Reporting Threshold
10.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Air
20.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Land
20.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Water
20.0 Kg/yr Pollutant Emissions to Waste Water
This sheet is a generic summary, designed to give the reader a basic level of background information about the substance in question. Great care has been taken to represent as effectively and correctly as possible the broad range of (not necessarily consistent) information which is available from a variety of sources. The reader must accept therefore that this sheet has no legal status and cannot be relied upon in any legal proceedings. SEPA disclaims any responsibility or liability whatsoever for errors and omissions in this sheet.
What is it?
Phenol is the simplest member of a family of related chemicals known as phenols. Pure phenol is colourless or white crystals with a strong antiseptic smell. Impure phenol can sometimes be pink crystals or liquid. The melting point of phenol is 43 degrees celsius and it boils at 182 degrees celsius. Phenol dissolves reasonably well in water.
What is it used for?
Phenol and its compounds are used in the manufacture of chemicals, resins and synthetic fibres, as pesticides (to control growth of bacteria and fungal slimes), as disinfectants and antiseptics and as wood preservatives.
Where does it come from?
Releases of phenols may occur from processes in which they are used, from their application as pesticides, disinfectants and antiseptics and from waste incinceration. Phenol is also emitted in vehicle exhaust and is found in cigarette smoke. Significant amounts of phenols are also released naturally, for example from forest fires.
How might it affect the environment?
At normal environmental concentrations, phenols are unlikely to damage wildlife or plants. Man-made releases are usually to water bodies or soil, where they can persist (particularly if there is limited oxygen, such as in landfills or boggy water-logged soils). Some phenols can also accumulate in aquatic organisms. Due to the fact that they do not easily evaporate, phenols are not usually found at high concentrations in the atmosphere. Phenols are toxic to aquatic wildlife: effects vary according to the type of phenol in question. Some phenols (such as chlorophenols) persist and accumulate in the environment and may therefore have environmental effects at a global level.
How might exposure to it affect human health?
Low-level naturally occurring phenols are unlikely to harm human health. Long-term exposure to higher levels of some types (such as chlorophenols) released due to man's activities may cause cancer and have other adverse effects on health. This kind of exposure is only likely to occur in occupational settings or where there is mis-use of phenolic materials or medicines.
What steps are being taken to limit the potential impacts?
There is no UK (including Scottish) legislation controlling releases of phenols. They are however controlled from Europe and through international initiatives. European Directives controlling emissions of phenols include those concerned with improving the quality of bathing water (76/160/EEC); treatment of hazardous wastes (91/689/EEC); and they have been identified as "priority substances" for action to prevent harm to the environment and human health. Internationally, phenols are controlled through the OSPAR and Helsinki conventions which protect the marine environments of the north-east Atlantic and Baltic sea respectively; the Basel convention on transboundary movement and disposal of hazardous wastes; and the Rotterdam convention on the trade of certain hazardous chemicals and pesticides.