The performance of a membrane bioreactor (MBR) with a tubular ceramic membrane for phenol removal was evaluated under varying hydraulic retention times (HRT) and a fixed sludge residence time (SRT) of 30 days. The tubular ceramic membrane was operated with a mode of 15 minutes of filtration followed by 15 seconds of permeate backwashing at a flux of 250 1 m(-2) hr(-1) along with an extended backwashing of 30 seconds every 3 hours of operation, which maintained the transmembrane pressure (TMP) below 100 kPa. Using a simulated municipal wastewater with varying phenol concentrations, the chemical oxygen demand (COD) and phenol removals observed were greater than 887 with excellent suspended solids (SS) removal of 100% at low phenol concentrations (approx. 100 mg l(-1) of phenol). Step increases in phenol concentration showed that inhibition was observed between 600 to 800 mg l(-1) of phenol with decreased sludge production rate, mixed liquor suspended solids (MLSS) concentration, and removal performance. The sludge volume index (SVI) of the biomass increased to about 450 ml g(-1) for a phenol input concentration of 800 mg l(-1). When the phenol concentration was decreased to 100 mg l(-1), the ceramic tubular MBR was found to recover rapidly indicating that the MBR is a robust system retaining most of the biomass. Experimental runs using wastewater containing phenol indicated that the MBR can be operated safely without upsets for concentrations up to 600 mg l(-1) of phenol at 2 - 4 hours HRT and 30 days SRT.