White phosphorus is extremely hazardous. It is spontaneously flammable in air, which is why it must be stored under water. It emits very toxic fumes, and is also toxic when swallowed. It also can cause severe burns.
The risks are significant and therefore it is recommended that schools do not use white phosphorus. Instead, a suitable video should be shown to demonstrate the properties of white phosphorus. For example: http://www.periodicvideos.com/videos/015.htm
Science ASSIST does not recommend the use of white phosphorus in schools. Therefore it is not in our Recommended list of chemicals for science in Australian schools.
White phosphorus is banned or considered high risk in schools in several jurisdictions in Australia.
For schools that may currently have white phosphorus, we recommend that it is disposed of by a licenced waste disposal contractor. Until this is achieved, it is vital that the correct storage is managed by a technician or teacher with tertiary-level chemistry training and/or experience such that they understand the chemistry and hazards involved with storing and handling the chemical.
‘Phosphorus Safety Data Sheet’ 2015. Sigma-Aldrich website. http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/MSDS/MSDS/DisplayMSDSPage.do?country=AU&lang... (Accessed August 2015)
‘Phosphorus-Periodic Table of Videos’ Periodic Videos, University of Nottingham website. http://www.periodicvideos.com/videos/015.htm (Accessed August 2015)