Abstract Phenols pose a risk to the environment and to human health. Phenols found in rivers mainly originate from sewage treatment plants (STPs). In this paper, analytical procedures, based on deconvolution technology and retention time locking technology, were investigated to simultaneously identify and determine the concentrations of fifty different phenols in sewage water and effluents. Seventeen different phenols were found in sewage and five — including two regulated phenols (phenol and 2,4,6-trichlorophenol) and three un-regulated phenols (2-chlorophenol, 2,5-dichlorophenol and 2,4-dichloro-3-ethyl-6-nitrophenol) — were identified in effluents of five STPs. A number of processes undertaken in five STPs were also investigated. These processes can be used to remove phenols at efficiency levels of between 88.95% and 99.97%. Among the processes tested, a combination of anaerobic/anoxic/oxic (A2/O), continuous microfiltration (CMF), ozone oxidation (O3), and chlorination, appeared to be the best option for the removal of key phenols. Among the five phenols identified in effluents, 2,5-dichlorophenol (1.89μg/L) and 2,4-dichloro-3-ethyl-6-nitrophenol (22.6μg/L) pose the greatest ecological risk to receiving waters.