The major hazard of phenol is its ability to penetrate the skin rapidly, causing severe burns. Toxic and even fatal amounts of phenol can be absorbed through relatively small areas of skin. Due to its local anesthetizing properties, skin burns may be painless. Phenol may be fatal if swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Care should be exercised not to walk in spills since phenol can penetrate leather.

Emergency Procedures

People administering first aid should take precautions to avoid contact with phenol. Phenol can penetrate leather on shoes or clothing. Acute overexposure by any route may lead to nausea, vomiting, muscle weakness and coma.

In case of skin contact: It is possible that pain may not be felt on initial contact. Whitening of the skin usually occurs, with deeper burns developing later. In case of skin contact, immediately flush skin with large amounts of water while removing contaminated clothing and shoes. Flush skin with water for at least 15 minutes or until the affected area turns from white to pink. It is very important to avoid rubbing or wiping affected parts which would aggravate irritation and cause product dispersion. Once the skin changes to pink or after 15 minutes, apply polyethylene glycol to the affected area. The polyethylene glycol application should be done during transportation to the hospital. If polyethylene glycol is not available, flush with water for at least 30 minutes prior to going to hospital. Get medical attention immediately. Destroy contaminated clothing and shoes. 

In case of eye contact: May cause severe damage and possibly blindness. Immediately flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes, lifting eyelids occasionally. Get medical attention immediately.

In case of inhalation: May be severely irritating to the respiratory tract. Remove to fresh air. Get medical attention immediately.

In case of ingestion: May burn the mouth and throat. May cause rapid development of digestive disturbances. As little as 1 gram may be fatal. Be ready to induce vomiting or administer 15 to 30 cc of castor oil or other vegetable oil at the advice of a physician or poison control center. Get medical attention immediately.

Spills: Take care not to walk through phenol or solutions of phenol since the substance may rapidly penetrate leather.

Phenol exposure kits can be obtained through Environmental Health and Safety for labs that use phenol. These kits have a five year shelf life. It includes a bucket with neoprene gloves in medium and large sizes (small upon request), decontamination instructions, 1 Liter of poly ethylene glycol 400 MW solution, paper towels, bags for contaminated clothing, and a Tyvek suit to wear in place of contaminated clothing. Contact EHS at 258-5294 to obtain a kit.


Use chemical splash goggles and/or a face shield where splashing is possible.  Wear impervious clothing, including close-toed shoes, lab coat or apron and butyl rubber or neoprene gloves.  Avoid heat, flames and ignition sources.  Hot liquid phenol will attack aluminum, magnesium, lead and zinc metals.


Store phenol in a cool, dry, ventilated area away from sources of heat or ignition.  Store separately from reactive or combustible materials and out of direct sunlight. 


Phenol and phenol-contaminated materials should be disposed of as hazardous waste.

For More Information

See the SDS for phenol from Fisher Scientific.


Stanley Howell
Program Manager - Chemical Safety

Steve Elwood
Associate Director for Laboratory Safety