Recently someone is claiming that the laminar wood panels used for building our new primary school contains a "carcinogenic and dangerous compound", namely phenolphthalein.

I couldn't find any evidence of it being used as that on the net. Could you confirm my findings?

Thank you

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this is a question about chemistry. If the only source you have for this claim is that "someone said", it probably is not true. That being said, a question about testing for phenolphthalein in wood laminate would be interesting and on topic. So would a question about the harmful health effects of phenolphthalein (probably not many). $\endgroup$
    – Ben Norris
    Nov 30 '12 at 12:08
  • $\begingroup$ You're right, but my question was the one in the title, namely whether a substance is used in an industry. It's maybe more an industrial chemistry question. Your proposals are more interesting from the chemical pov, but they wouldn't help me much. Asking just about testing for presence is like asking for any other bad substance that comes to mind that could be in the panels. Harmful effects are debated, but e.g. the wikipedia entries are very detailed. Thank you $\endgroup$
    – Metiu
    Nov 30 '12 at 13:42

Could it be that he meant phenol-formaldehyde resin?

These resins are often used to bond wood chips. They contain unreacted formaldehyde and the resin decomposes slowly, giving off more formaldehyde, which is volatile and very toxic. This is a known health concern. Many companies offer indoor air testing for formaldehyde, you can even buy dubious tests to do it yourself.

My bet would be on such a resin.

There are indeed some resins that use phenolphtalein:

Phenolphtalein might be cancerogenic, even though it was used as a laxative

Phenolphthalein was commonly used as a laxative for most of the 20th century. The use of phenolphthalein in laxatives has decreased since 1997 when the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed to withdraw its classification as an over-the-counter drug (21 CFR, Part 310). Phenolphthalein has been previously evaluated in 2-year carcinogenicity studies by the National Toxicology Program (1996). The major route of human exposure to phenolphthalein is via ingestion, dermal contact, and inhalation of contaminated air originating from process units manufacturing the compound.

In any case, phenolphtalein is a powder that is not very volatile and would not pose a big risk. Commonly the formaldehyde resin is used for particleboard, I have never heard about the phenolphthalein resin being used for this purpose (but this is far from my area of work)

Of course, there is a simple test. Phenolphtalein changes color in a basic solution and looks like this

enter image description here

Dissolve the material in ethanol and add NaOH (drain cleaner), phenolphtalein will turn fuchsia.


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