Definition of White phosphorus

White phosphorus: A waxy solid which burns easily and is used in chemical manufacturing and smoke munitions. It is also used by industry to produce phosphoric acid and other chemicals for use in fertilizers, food additives, and cleaning compounds. Small amounts of white phosphorus were used in the past in pesticides and fireworks.

Breathing white phosphorus for short periods may cause coughing and irritation of the throat and lungs. Breathing white phosphorus for long periods may cause a condition known as "phossy jaw" which involves poor wound healing of the mouth and breakdown of the jaw bone.

Eating or drinking small amounts of white phosphorus may cause liver, heart, or kidney damage, vomiting, stomach cramps, drowsiness, or death. We do not know what the effects are from eating or drinking very small amounts of white phosphorus-containing substances over long periods of time. Skin contact with burning white phosphorus may burn skin or cause liver, heart, and kidney damage.


Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012

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