From The Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Pentachlorophenol is a synthetic substance, made from other chemicals, and does not occur naturally in the environment. It is made by only one company in the United States. At one time, it was one of the most widely used biocides in the United States. Since 1984, the purchase and use of pentachlorophenol has been restricted to certified applicators. It is no longer available to the general public. Application of pentachlorophenol in the home as an herbicide and pesticide accounted for only 3% of its consumption in the 1970s. Before use restrictions, pentachlorophenol was widely used as a wood preservative. It is now used industrially as a wood preservative for power line poles, cross arms, fence posts, and the like. Pure pentachlorophenol exists as colorless crystals. It has a very sharp characteristic phenolic smell when hot but very little odor at room temperature. Most people can begin to smell pentachlorophenol in water at less than 12 parts pentachlorophenol per million parts of water (ppm). Impure pentachlorophenol (the form usually found at hazardous waste sites) is dark gray to brown and exists as dust, beads, or flakes. Pentachlorophenol can be found in two forms: pentachlorophenol itself or as the sodium salt of pentachlorophenol. The sodium salt dissolves easily in water, but pentachlorophenol does not. These two forms have some different physical properties but are expected to have similar toxic effects. Humans are generally exposed to technical-grade pentachlorophenol, which usually contains such toxic impurities as polychlorinated dibenzo- p-dioxins and dibenzofurans. Table 3-2 lists the impurities found in three different grades of pentachlorophenol.
For more information on the physical and chemical properties of pentachlorophenol, see Chapter 4 of the toxicological profile. For more information on its production, use, and disposal, see Chapter 5 of the toxicological profile.