A simple reversed-phase LC method capable of detecting ng/ml quantities of phenolic compounds in water is described. Pre-column derivatization with benzoyl chloride is used for the separation and determination o-cresol, m-cresol, p-cresol, phenol, resorcinol, catechol and hydroquinone in water. The benzoyl derivatives formed within in 15 min, were extracted with dietyl ether, and then analyzed by liquid chromatography with UV detection at 232 nm. With a mobile phase of acetonitrile-tetrahydrofuran-water (54:6:40, v/v) the seven derivatives were eluted in 15 min. The detection limits were between 0.05 and 0.50 ng/ml for 50 ml of a standard water sample. The method was applied to the analysis of phenols in wine and river water. The recovery of the derivatives from pure water was 81-94% with relative standard deviations of 2.5-5.0%. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.