Red Phosphorous Summary


Expected Concentrations:

Although red phosphorous is utilized during the clandestine manufacture of methamphetamine, it is not normally detected in the effluents from the process. Analysis for phosphorous by National Jewish Medical and Research Center did not result in any positive samples during any of their "cooks". The primary exposure caused by red phosphorous is the production of phosphine gas during the production process. The amount produced is dependant upon process temperature and isolation. Phosphine is covered in the section regarding chemicals produced.

General Health Effects:

Red phosphorous is generally regarded as non-toxic and has no current occupational exposure standards. In some cases, red phosphorous may be contaminated with yellow phosphorous which does have human toxicity. Since most red phosphorous is obtained from the striker plates of matches, the amount of yellow phosphorous is relatively low, and toxicity is also low. Yellow phosphorous is an irritant of the respiratory tract, eyes and skin. It can burn spontaneously in air and can cause severe burns if it comes into contact with skin. It may also cause abdominal pain, jaundice, and anemia. It may also cause necrosis of the bones in the face causing a conditions called phossy jaw. Presenting complaints may include toothache, salivation, and teeth may become loose. Pain and swelling of the jaw may also occur. (1,2)

Health Risks to Children:

Children with exposures to yellow phosphorous are likely to have similar symptoms as do adults. Children may be more susceptible to pulmonary damage due to a greater lung surface area per body weight and a more rapid breathing rate. (1,2) 

Fetal Health Effects:

There are no known human fetal health effects from parental exposure to red phosphorous.

  1. Proctor, N.H. , Hughes, J.P. 1978. Chemical Hazards of the Workplace. J.B. Lippincott Co. Philadelphia, PA 533 pp.
  2. Salocks, C. and Kaley, K.B. Technical Support Document:  Toxicity Clandestine Labs: Methamphetamine. Vol 1. , Number 12. Red Phosphorous. Cal/EPA. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Sacramento, CA . 2003. 10 pp.

Additional Information:

Technical Support Document: Toxicology Clandestine Drug Labs: Red Phosphorous
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

Toxicology of Red Phosphorous
2003 Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment