Phenol distillation (caveat)

lappel at lappel at
Tue Nov 2 13:34:36 EST 1993

In article <9311012241.AA27012 at>, alvin at writes:
> 	Not to discourage anyone from distilling their
> own phenol, but I have met several people who
> inadvertently broke their distilling apparati while distillation
> was in progress, causing a spray of hot phenol to land
> on their bodies.  In one case, the glassware was
> old and got bumped; in another, a thermometer which was somehow
> inside the apparatus in a specially-designed holder stopped
> up the flow of phenol and caused a backup and overflow.
> While they were attempting to unstop the apparatus they broke it.
> 	Be careful!  Also, if you do get hot phenol on you,
> glycerol is supposed to be useful in washing it off.  If you
> use water it will simply spread the phenol around (so I have
> heard).  Emergency room people have little or no experience
> with phenol, so it is good to be able to tell them
> how they should treat it.
For what it is worth:
	I was on the receiving end of a phenol spill several months ago. 
Someone was melting a glass bottle of phenol in a 65C water bath on my bench. 
He swirled it to see if it was all melted, a spot in the glass bottle failed,
and I ended up being hit in the side with a direct spray.  
	I didn't know anything about glycerol, and the phenol was only 65C, not
boiling, but immediate application of large quantitied of water (also known as
ripping my clothes off, and hosing down off the dH2O line at the next bench for
10 minutes, leaving my labmates to mop the drain-less floor afterwards) did the
job very well.  Only first degree burns, not much of that, and the scars are
all healed.  The MD-types at the Yale Health Service said afterwards that that
was the approved treatment for phenol burns.
	I had been using phenol for 8 yrs before that, with no problems.  It's
easy to get complacent.  
	With regards to emergency rooms: if I had had to wait for an emergency
room, or even a call to a toxics hotline, I would almost certainly have been
very severely burned.  The method for dealing with dangerous spills on the body
that I was taught as a beginning chem grad student was: if you don't have good 
reasons to do otherwise (like knowing the  substance you spilled interacts 
explosively with water), the best method is strip, start showering, and then 
send one of your labmates to the telephone or toxics books for other ideas.  
And don't just give it a feeble rinse, either. Go for a full ten minutes.
	Meanwhile, pre-equilibrated phenol starts looking better to me, even if
it is overpriced.

Laurel F. Appel                  LAPPEL at EAGLE.WESLEYAN.EDU
Dept. of Biology                 and then of course there is the solution from
Wesleyan University              30 years ago: use benzene to back-extract the
Middletown CT                    phenol from the skin!

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