Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Demystifying household chemicals: Phenol

Some of the biggest brand-name cleaning products
contain phenol (and other harmful chemicals).
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos
"Demystifying household chemicals" is a series that aims to inform people on the types of chemicals found in and around our homes. The series will be featured every Wednesday where a different chemical, and its everyday uses, will be discussed.

Chemicals surround us all the time and there are always warnings that pop up about this chemical causing terrible side effects or that chemical leading to cancer. It can be overwhelming to keep track of which chemicals are ‘safe’ and which are not. 

Phenol, also known as carbolic or phenic acid, can be quite a complex chemical as it is used in many different fields. It is an aromatic compound, as are some other chemicals discussed in previous posts, and though it can occur naturally, it is predominantly chemically produced.

Normally in solid form, it is often liquefied for commercial use and has a sickly sweet smell. Surprisingly, phenol can be both good and bad for you. 

Good phenol

Naturally occurring phenol is actually good for you. It is made up of a mixture of human and animal waste, coal tar, creosote and decomposing organic materials. Humans even produce and excrete small amounts of it. 

Many different types of food contain phenol.  These foods are antioxidants and are also known to have other protective properties. 

Some fruits containing phenol include cherries, apples, plums and grapes. You can also find phenols in vegetables such as red cabbage, yellow onions, potatoes and celery. For more information on which foods are full of good phenol, visit LiveStrong.
Bad phenol

Where phenol gets to be a problem is when it is produced chemically. This chemical ranks among the top 50 chemicals produced per year in the United States, at over three billion pounds.

Worldwide, six billion pounds of phenol are produced every year. It is also a component used to produce bisphenol A (BPA),  the chemical that was recently banned in baby bottles by the EPA. 

Toothpaste contains triclosan, a type of phenol.
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos
Phenol can be found in the following products:

  • Mouthwash
  • Salves
  • Throat sprays
  • Paint
  • Rubber
  • Soap
  • Toys
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Wood-burning smoke
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen
  • Lotion
  • Cleaning products
  • Acne medications
  • Sugar substitutes

So what does phenol do to the body?

In large quantities, bad phenol can have devastating effects on both your skin and your internal organs.

Adults working in the manufacturing and petroleum fields may be at risk. Long-term exposure in the workplace can cause heart disease.

Ingesting the chemical in liquid form can cause damage to your stomach and intestines and can even lead to death. Skin contact can cause irritations, blisters and burns.

In lower doses, phenol can cause lethargy and vomiting among kids exposed to disinfectants containing the chemical. 

For more detailed information on phenol, read up on a study done by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

Do you have any questions about phenol? Post your questions or comments here!

What you can do at home

It is certainly a good idea to pick through your household goods and see which products you can do without.

There are cleaning products out there that are safer for you, your family and the environment.  Other products may be a little more difficult to make do without.

This is why it is a good idea to have an air purifier in your home. With an air purifier that contains an activated carbon filter, you can get rid of noxious fumes and chemicals from your household products.

AllerAir has a selection of air purifiers that cater to different needs; whether it’s for chemical and odor control, tobacco smoke or any other concerns you have with your indoor air quality. Contact us for more information.

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