Flammability and Explosibility

White phosphorus ignites spontaneously upon contact with air, producing an irritating, dense white smoke of phosphorus oxides. Use water to extinguish phosphorus fires.

Red phosphorus is a flammable solid but does not ignite spontaneously on exposure to air. At high temperatures (-300 °C), red phosphorus is converted to the white form.

Reactivity and Incompatibility

White phosphorus reacts with a number of substances to form explosive mixtures. For example, dangerous explosion hazards are produced upon reaction of phosphorus with many oxidizing agents, including chlorates, bromates, and many nitrates, with chlorine, bromine, peracids, organic peroxides, chromium trioxide, and potassium permanganate, with alkaline metal hydroxides (phosphine gas is liberated), and with sulfur, sulfuric acid, and many metals, including the alkali metals, copper, and iron.

Red phosphorus is much less reactive than the white allotrope but may ignite or react explosively with strong oxidizing agents.

Storage and Handling

Because of its corrosivity, flammability, and high acute toxicity, white phosphorus should be handled using the "basic prudent practices" of Chapter 5.C, supplemented by the additional precautions for work with compounds of high toxicity (Chapter 5.D) and extremely flammable substances (Chapter 5.F). In particular, work with white phosphorus should be conducted in a fume hood to prevent exposure by inhalation, and splash goggles and impermeable gloves should be worn at all times to prevent eye and skin contact. Phosphorus should be stored under water in secondary containers in areas separate from oxidizing agents and other incompatible substances. The less dangerous red form of phosphorus can be handled using the "basic prudent practices" of Chapter 5.C.


In the event of skin contact, immediately flush with water and remove contaminated clothing. Wet the skin until medical attention is obtained to prevent any remaining phosphorus from igniting. In case of eye contact, promptly wash with copious amounts of water for 15 min (lifting upper and lower lids occasionally) and obtain medical attention. If phosphorus is ingested, give the person (if conscious) large quantities of water to drink and obtain medical attention immediately. If large amounts of phosphorus or smoke and fumes from burning phosphorus are inhaled, move the person to fresh air and seek medical attention at once.

In the event of a spill, douse with water and cover with wet sand or earth; collect material in a suitable container and dispose of properly. Respiratory protection may be necessary in the event of a spill or release in a confined area.


Excess phosphorus and waste material containing this substance should be placed in an appropriate container, clearly labeled, and handled according to your institution's waste disposal guidelines. For more information on disposal procedures, see Chapter 7 of this volume.

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