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Carbolic Acid

phenol and war

CARBOLIC ACID. Before the World War of 1914 18, carbolic acid (which is also known as phenol) was chiefly valuable for its uses in medicine, in the dye making industry, and in making phonograph records.

Nearly all of the American supply was imported from England. But during the war the military impor tance of carbolic acid in the making of picric acid, which is the most important source of high explosives, overshadowed all its other uses. So great was the demand that, when the imports were cut off, prices soared 2,000 per cent, and the United States for the first time developed a phenol industry.

Carbolic acid is one of the products resulting from the distillation of coal-tar, which is obtained chiefly from gas works. Until 1914 three-fourths of the coal from which gas was made was coked in ovens which wasted all the by-products. During the war all the large cities installed machinery for recovering these by-products, and many plants were erected for the artificial or synthetic production of carbolic acid (see Coal-Tar Products).

The crude product is a dark-colored oil; when puri fied it forms large colorless crystals. Pure phenol has a very corrosive action on the skin, producing white burns which are difficult to heal. A three per cent solution is tined for washing wounds and disinfecting the hands, as that strength is sufficient to kill bacteria.

Taken internally it is a strong poison.