Several types of coal waste (freshly-dumped waste, self-heated waste and waste eroded by rain water), river sediments and river water were sampled. The aim was to identify the types of phenols present on the dumps together with their relative abundances. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analyses of a large number of samples (234) statistically underpin the phenol distributions in the sample sets. The largest average relative contents (1.17-13.3%) of phenols occur in the self-heated samples. In these, relatively high amounts of phenol, C1- and C2-phenols reflect the thermal destruction of vitrinite. In fresh coal waste, C2- and C3-phenols that originated from the bacterial/fungal degradation and oxidation of vitrinite particles are the most common (0.6 rel.%). Water-washed coal waste and water samples contain lower quantities of phenols. In the river sediments, the phenols present are the result of bacterial- or fungal decay of coaly organic matter or are of industrial origin.