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Phenols and phenolic compounds are a class of chemicals consisting of a hydroxyl group attached to an aromatic hydrocarbon group. They are occur naturally as well as being synthetically created. These compounds are widely used in industry, and are found in many common materials including:

  • antiseptics
  • medical preparations
  • resins
  • plastics
  • cosmetics
  • health aids
  • foods and beverages

Some phenolic compounds, such as pentachlorophenol, are used as pesticides and as preservatives for building materials such as wood and rubber. These chemicals may enter the atmosphere or groundwater during the manufacturing process, from evaporation of treated materials, industrial spills, or improper disposal. A number of phenolic compounds are subject to regulation as air and water pollutants around the world. In the United States, eleven phenolic compounds are listed as priority pollutants by the EPA, five are regulated as hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act, and one compound (pentachlorophenol) is regulated under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulation.

US EPA Method 604 describes a gas chromatography (GC) method for determining phenols, using mass spectrometry (MS) or flame ionization detection (FID). However, many phenol-containing samples can poison GC columns. Liquid chromatography, combined with automated sample pretreatment, can be used to determine all 11 phenolic compounds listed in Method 604 with detection limits equivalent to GC-MS and superior to GC-FID.