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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 26, 2009

On the Uselessness of the MSDS

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Posted by Derek

With all the recent discussions around here about safety, I think that there's one thing that all of us working chemists can agree on: MSDSs are often the next thing to useless.

They're not supposed to be, at least in theory. The idea is that a materials safety data sheet collects all the relevant toxicity, handling, and disposal information for a given chemical so it can be referenced by users, emergency responders, and so on. But somewhere along the line, things have gone well off track. I refer interested readers to the famous example of the MSDS for sand. Sea sand.

The first thing we find is that it is a cancer hazard. Then we note that "Prolonged exposure to respirable crystalline quartz may cause delayed lung injury/fibrosis (silicosis)". Which is true, but (of course), we have no idea of what "prolonged" means in this context, and we may not realize that sand, in its commonly encountered forms, is not easy to inhale. One should " Wear appropriate protective clothing to prevent skin exposure", but if we were to contact this substance through our own carelessness? We should "Immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes.". We should take care at all times: "Do not let this chemical enter the environment." But that should go without saying, since we've been enjoined to "Use only in a chemical fume hood".

Now, what this thing is trying to tell us is that extensive exposure to finely ground silica dust is bad for the lungs. This is absolutely true, even if lawyers have been trying to make dubious fortunes off of it. A person should take care not to inhale sand dust, and should take particular care if exposure to such dust is a regular feature of one's job.

But there needs to be a way to get this information across without making a bag of sand sound like a weapon of mass destruction. I don't know how many times I've heard of chemical spills being treated like high-level radioactive waste because emergency responders (or local news reporters) read the MSDS and hit the panic button. (A famous example was the closure of the Bay Bridge in California once by a few bags of iron oxide (keep in mind that this happened before the current environment of worries about terrorist incidents). The responders knew what the chemical was: they read the MSDS, which (naturally) told them to wear full protective equipment, avoid exposure, wash copiously and seek medical attention, etc. For a few bags of rust.

There has to be a better way - you'd think, at any rate. But the MSDS is lawyer language, when you get right down to it, and there's the problem. Trying to insulate everyone from liability is not something that can be done simultaneously with trying to inform people in case of an emergency. Very few chemists, in my experience, spend much time with these forms at all, preferring to get their information from almost any other source. There has to be a better way.

Comments (81) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Safety Warnings


1. Anonymous on May 26, 2009 11:55 AM writes...

I've always been curious how the LD50 for water was estimated? By drowning rats, maybe?

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2. retread on May 26, 2009 12:17 PM writes...

Exactly the same thing has happened with the PDR (Physician's Desk Reference) which is essentially a compendium of drug companies' warnings about product toxicity and side effects. In an effort to maximize CYA every possible side effect is listed (ranging from hemorrhoids to dyspareunia).

The result is that when information is needed about a relatively unfamiliar drug (docs shouldn't be prescribing drugs unfamiliar to them, but patients appear before them who are taking such from another doc) you just call someone using the drug after reading the PDR to find out what really happens.

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3. Ty on May 26, 2009 12:23 PM writes...

Once, I saw on the label of D2O; "Strong oxidizer" umm.... ok

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4. milkshake on May 26, 2009 12:24 PM writes...

Its not just the cover-my-ass overblown formulaic nonsense obscuring the important info. The main problem is that the relevant info is often completely missing.

After interacting with people from E&HS department at three companies and three academic institutions, I suppose that the people who actually are writing all this MSDS gorp are neither sensible, motivated nor brilliant scientists - because any half-decent chemist would have fled from this kind of assignment that is injurious to sanity.

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5. KC on May 26, 2009 12:29 PM writes...

On the opposite side, MSDSs are better than where a lot of people get their information from: rumour and hearsay. Biologists live in morbid fear of ethidium bromide, switching to even more dangerous dyes to avoid it. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I know of at least one instance where someone all but fumigated themselves with TEMED because they thought it was perfectly safe.

They're better than nothing, I guess I'm saying.

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6. Anonymous on May 26, 2009 12:33 PM writes...

what bugs me is that I imagine that the MSDS information is a summary of extensive animal testing that's required for commercially available chemicals. I always shudder when I think about this sort of animal testing, but understand that it is for the greater good and that it is necessary to avoid accidents involving toxicity to humans. I'm not against animal research. However, when I think about the fact that there are scientists out there who are trying to determine how much sand a rabbit has to inhale before it suffocates, and that nearly ALL of this information is completely ignored (because it's worthless), it makes me really angry. Why can't these procedures be either (a) modified so that they provide valuable information or (b) given-up altogether with the expectation that common sense tells you to avoid getting chemicals on/in you?

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7. Maks on May 26, 2009 12:35 PM writes...

The problem is that no one takes MSDS serious, if things like sand and rust sound as dangerous as methyl iodide so why should anyone pay attention to it?
Of course wear suitable protective clothing, but was is suitable? pressurized full body clothing? gloves? goggles? or is a lab coat enough?
Search medical assistance, as if any ER doctor would know what to do if you present him/her the MSDS or draw the molecular formula.
A lot of accidents could be avoided if those MSDS would be user and not lawyer friendly. Just write "avoid skin contact or inhalation by any means", "in case of skin contact wash with plenty of tap water and there should be no permanent health damage".

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8. Chemjobber on May 26, 2009 12:40 PM writes...

I've yet to see a copy of it, but from what I've been told, Bretherick's (sp?) sounds like the exact opposite of MSDSs.

Also, this is a good place to put in a plug for Kyle Finchsigmate's new wiki for chemists:

While it's not a place for safety information on reagents, I suspect it will become a place for safety information on procedures.

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9. hypnos on May 26, 2009 12:51 PM writes...

A loosely related story from the news: In germany, the authorities just pulled a soft drink from the supermarkets (more or less nationwide), because someone found *0.4 micrograms* of cocaine per liter in it. Apparently, there were some impurities present in some natural flavours used in the production. Unfortunately, nobody took the time that you would have to drink at least 10.000 liters to see some effect.

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10. Dave on May 26, 2009 1:04 PM writes...

Having spent a number of years on an emergency response team, I can tell you that information, of any kind, is lacking from the site of a spill (which seems to always be at the worst possible place/time/scenario/etc.). Thus, having a MSDS available is much better than having nothing available, even if it is oriented towards the side of excessive caution. Thus, while those of us who are knowledgeable about chemistry often decry the excessive precautions recommended by MSDSes, we have to remember that most emergency responders have little, if any, knowledge of chemistry. Plus, quite a few are motivated by heroic ideals which can cause them to charge into dangerous situations if the MSDSes don't warn them otherwise.


P.S. For a real world example, suppose your emergency response team is called out, at 4:00 AM on a Saturday morning, to where a semi has been pulled over on the side of an interstate highway for leaking cargo. After arriving on scene, you find that there are two 55 gallon drums of "Organic Peroxide" on the back of the truck, one of which has been nicked by a forklift tine while being loaded, such that it's allowing the liquid to slowly seep out. Now, imagine the ambient temperature is about 60F, but that this is mid-July in the southern US (expected high temperature of 90+F later in the day). What should you do? (And, yes, this really happened!)

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11. Norepi on May 26, 2009 1:05 PM writes...

#9: I don't know, you'd be surprised how much Mountain Dew grad students can drink in a day.

I liked Dylan Stiles' blanket chemical warning much better: "Don't Eat It, ok?"

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12. Lucas on May 26, 2009 1:07 PM writes...

That MSDS for sand seemed a bit alarmist, though I suppose reasonable until I ran into this gem: "Do not let this chemical enter the environment." Yes, it would be a shame if any quartz got into the environment.

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13. Sili on May 26, 2009 1:39 PM writes...

I think we need to go in the other direction if we want things to improve.

Complaining about too much 'caution' on research chemicals will get us nowhere. No we need to lobby for MSDSs to be used everywhere. Why should sodium chloride be treated differently when you by it at the supermarket? Sodium benzoate? - that one's gonna freak out people. I say attach MSDSs to all chemicals no exceptions. It's not like they need to write new ones - they just need to be applied more widely.

Until more people see sense, of course.

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14. NH_chem on May 26, 2009 1:54 PM writes...

Look up Dihydrogen Monoxide and read the MSDS (or click on my name above). That stuff is nasty and I would never want to work with it...................

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15. CMCguy on May 26, 2009 1:59 PM writes...

As mentioned MSDSs tend to be more legal CYA/DOT Reg documents that most chemists find completely inane however as #10 Dave suggests a target audience is Firefighters and other Emergency personnel who lack deep understandings to differentiate between potential hazards that could end up making situations worse. I actually have been an ERT member and gotten calls in middle of the night to deal with something that turned out to be innocuous but Security Guard or Firefighters did not have anything to guide them. I think it would benefit chemists to talk with or do ride-a-longs because although Firefighters are extremely brave any "chemical incident" can really show how much fear/misunderstanding exists in dealing with things we in the lab take for granted.

Having help generate a few MSDSs can suggest it is very difficult task since in most cases either no or very limited specific information so typically have to look at "related" compounds to glean what one trusts is meaningful. Usually only when a compound becomes "commercial" does significant studies get done. Engineers often have better training and awareness coming in then most chemists for hazards. As #8 CJ noted above Bretherick's Handbook is excellent resource (even on scale-up issues) with "Prudent Practices" Book(s) are especially good for labs. Sometimes Org Syn Footnotes contain warning and have seen some papers over the years that will state compounds were found to be lycromators(?) or irritants so suspect determined by experience.

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16. metaphysician on May 26, 2009 2:09 PM writes...

#10 Dave: Call the bomb squad and evacuate everyone within a few hundred yards?

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17. ... on May 26, 2009 2:35 PM writes...

Ahh, yes, overprotective legalese. The same kind of writing that ends up with EULAs that make you agree not to use your iPod in the manufacture of chemical, biological, nuclear, or other weapons of mass destruction.

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18. Bruce Hamilton on May 26, 2009 3:10 PM writes...

Before we get too superior about MSDS that other produce, perhaps we should consider what other information is immediately available to any emergency responder arriving at our workplaces tonight.

Not sure about the US, but here in NZ, laboratories and chemical industry sites are expected to have a white board at the door listing hazards, and pointing to relevant MSDS or euqivalent, that can be accessed within a minute, if not physically present.

I'm not sure how beneficial Bretherick would be - I've never found it to be easy-to-find information source. The NFPA Hazardous Materials/Weapons of Mass Destruction Handbook could also provide some basic resource for emergency responders. I'd almost want to obtain/read the latest edition, just to find what WMD are covered, as my earlier edition doesn't have them.

My preferred source of safety information for many commercial chemicals is Sax ( Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials ), but it's clearly not appropriate for many research activities, but then neither are the above sources.

A researcher has the responsibility to ensure appropriate safety information is available, so if you don't offer copied MSDS, what do you do?.

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19. david on May 26, 2009 4:03 PM writes...

You think the MSDS for sand is bad? Try this:

My favorite part is the 'first aid' section.

As one of my friends put it: "Am unclear whether to flush eyes with *more* HPLC-grade water
, or with tapwater. Please advise. V. urgent."

(I do note that that document has since been revised to be less idiotic...)

When I was working with NASA, the regs said we had to provide an MSDS for the working fluid of any pressurized system. Fair enough. Except that our working fluid was *air*.

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20. MAD on May 26, 2009 4:30 PM writes...

Over reacting is not drains resources from the important areas. For mr paramedic If you use all you epi pens up on minor reactinos people who really need them wont have them and die. Its hard to see it in th ebig picture because it takes years for the economy to be drained by this misinformation. But it is happening. There are less jobs out there because of all this nonesense, money is being wasted in droves on this psudo safety. The root of the problem needs to be fixed so saftey money will be spent in the proper areas and not drained away on bags of sand and rust.

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21. Handles on May 26, 2009 4:42 PM writes...

The example I always give is benzoyl chloride, where the MSDS usually says something like "never allow this product to come in contact with water". Yet the standard purification (Perrin and Armarego) for BzCl is to wash it with aqueous bicarb to remove the benzoic acid.

The cyanide hysteria on some acetonitrile MSDSs can be quite funny also.

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22. Anonymous on May 26, 2009 5:44 PM writes...

I've heard stories about people who have had minor accidents with chemicals that are really fairly innocuous, relatively speaking, but they were taken to the hospital and then treated with chemicals far worse than those involved in the accident. Maybe these sorts of guidelines are relevant for factory-scale accidents involving massive exposure, but not for most research accidents. People over-react to anything that is a chemical. They don't know chemistry, and warnings like those on the MSDS lead them to think that any chemicals in any quantity are horrible deadly things.

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23. Anonymous on May 26, 2009 5:53 PM writes...

ah, but for all the msds who cried wolf, the world would actually be able to differentiate the dangers of sea sand and those of TEMED.

blame government agencies? OSHA regs require msds, no? if government agencies enforce OSHA regulations too strictly, it will lead to companies over-protecting themselves for fear of adverse action.

blame the plaintiffs' bar? money talks, and it's cheaper to over-insulate with "overprotective legalese" than to settle a just-less-than-spurious negligence lawsuit. i expect msds will always be exhibit A in a negligence suit against a company.

i can also appreciate the alternative uses for msds, as presented above by #10 and #15. and unlike #19, i just don't see overprotective msds as a major strain on our economy :)

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24. Anonymous BMS Researcher on May 26, 2009 6:07 PM writes...

Ever read the MSDS for ETOH?

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25. Larry on May 26, 2009 6:08 PM writes...

A former PI of mine minimized ethanol pilfering by labeling it as the nastier methyl carbinol.

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26. Fat Old Man on May 26, 2009 6:45 PM writes...

This is a serious joke indeed. In fact, where I am right now, these MSDS's are being reviewed right along with in silico (Derek, Mcase software programs)and other databases for controlling PGI's at ppm levels at Ph 1 and beyond. Sea sand is not the only silly agenda item that might come up at these meetings. I remember fifteen minutes of my life at a meeting that can never be recovered discussing if K2CO3 was mutagenic due to an MSDS alert. This is one of the reasons our industry is collapsing.

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27. Richard Prankerd on May 26, 2009 6:57 PM writes...

#20, not only cyanide re ACN, but my bugbear is the so-called risk ascribed to cyanide when the compound is a ferricyanide or ferrocyanide. With dissociation contents in the order of 10^20 or greater, it's annoying to see these lumped in with cyanide salts

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28. Andrea G. on May 26, 2009 10:49 PM writes...

And then there's the matter of "vacuum" having an MSDS... And the bizarre conclusions that safety regulators can draw as a result.

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29. Cryptic Ned on May 27, 2009 12:35 AM writes...

The label on our bottle for powdered saponin (not an MSDS) actually has an unusual and abnormal LACK of alarmism. The only warning is "sternutator", which means something that makes you sneeze.

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30. Chemjobber on May 27, 2009 6:53 AM writes...

@Cryptic Ned: What's bad about the saponins? (other than their oral toxicity?)

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31. Jim Hu on May 27, 2009 9:50 AM writes...

#28 the MSDS for vacuum story is quite amusing, but it sounds like an urban legend to me. Searching MSDS sites for vacuum gives a lot of hits for vacuum oil and vacuum grease.

Got a link to an actual MSDS vs a story on a listserv? Who is the manufacturer of vacuum?

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32. Anonymous on May 27, 2009 10:44 AM writes...

Instead of MSDS, I just count the number of exclamation marks on the Aldrich bottle. I put on gloves at two and my goggles at four. :-)

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33. partial agonist on May 27, 2009 11:24 AM writes...

When I got my first real job after graduate school I had done a lot of self-packing using boxes from the lab, the nice sturdy solvent boxes. The company that hired me of course hired movers, and they showed up to move my stuff. Most of the self-packed stuff was in boxes originally containing acetonitrile. JT Baker or EM Science, I forget which, called acetonitrile "methyl cyanide" and those movers freaked out seeing those boxes labeled "methyl cyanide". I had to obliterate all of the labels, open the boxes up and show the contents, etc. before they would even touch them.

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34. Hap on May 27, 2009 11:52 AM writes...

I'm sure there are a lot of aftermarket cranial vacuum dealers. You could ask one for his MSDS.

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35. CMCguy on May 27, 2009 1:39 PM writes...

FiercePharma leads to link of an interesting survey of toxicologist on various views of chemical toxicity

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36. Vad on May 27, 2009 2:56 PM writes...

Like so many things, the MSDS is a charm to keep lawyers away.

And, like almost all such, it doesn't work.

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37. Handles on May 27, 2009 11:59 PM writes...

@Cryptic Ned
I love words like "sternutator". The Merck Index is packed full of them, like "rubefacient".

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38. Lynda Macdonald on May 28, 2009 9:21 PM writes...

I personally wish to thank Derek Lowe and, everyone from the chemistry industry that are providing productive feedback, toward the goal of educating and preventing further horrible incidents as the ones that happened to my brother Roland Daigle and to a very young 24-year old Chemist, Jason Siddell. A couple of very relevant points that are continually being brought up, is the consistent lack of international labelling of the product as "Toxic" rather than "potentially harmful" on the MSDS sheets and, the lack of international educational training for emergency response staff. Unless I'm mistaken, I am told that MSDS sheets can usually be unique for each chemical and, unique for each individual manufacturer; if that is the case, this needs to be changed. Trimethylsilyl diazomethane has to be labelled as it is; toxic. MSDS sheets have to provide emergency assistance response teams internationally, on how to treat inhalation, skin absorbtion via spills and, other unknown possibilities of treating a person put at risk from this chemical. Productive feedbacks welcomed.

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39. Koolkat on May 29, 2009 4:29 AM writes...

Lynda Macdonald,

The MSDS's for TMSdiazomethane should not just say toxic. That is the major problem with these "standard" words. There are a lot of things that say toxic, but just aren't that bad. If we go down the line and say potentially fatal, how long will it take until everything is potentially fatal. looking at the MSDS for water you can see that it is merely a form sheet. There is even a precaution of what to do if it catches on fire. Thats right water catching on fire. The one for sand is similar, what shoudl one do if sand catches on fire? Personally I would just run because that means that there is some really bad mojo going on. I mean sucrose is labeled as an irritant and potentially hazardous, but is widely available in grocery stores. I dont think it is possible to accurately label the truly dangerous chemicals without lawyers causing a resultant creep of the new "defined words" into things that arent as dangerous.

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40. syregnask on May 29, 2009 10:38 AM writes...

I recently went to an informational lecture regarding a new web-based tool for inventory of chemicals at my university. I initially thought the idea was merely to have a centralised university-wide inventory list of chemicals. But it quickly transpired that SAFETY was a keyword. When entering a chemical into the system one was obliged to link to supplier's homepage and upload MSDS - preferably as many as possible. It was then explained that the brilliance of the system was that in case two (or more) MSDS gave different classifications for a certain compound, the strongest classification would always be chosen...

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41. EarlWer on June 1, 2009 12:52 PM writes...

What about expiry dates now required on food items. My wife still expects milk to 'turn' on the expiry date printed on the carton.
I was required by a client to add expiry dates to ingredient labels. The maximum expiry date could only be six months in the future. This was a bit ridiculous considering one of their products was salt.

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42. ps on June 2, 2009 1:42 AM writes...

Remove clothes and flush with water for 15 minutes? In other words, you should start skinny dipping.

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43. bearing on June 5, 2009 9:56 AM writes...

It occurs to me that maybe we're seeing health and safety information dissemination coming full circle. Once upon a time, in the unenlightened past, warnings and advice about toxic material, protection from said toxins, and antidotes or other treatments for exposure were passed down as a matter of oral history and folklore, from elders to youngers, from experts to apprentices. Later, evidence-based testing processes were developed by which said information could be subjected to experimental review, and the oral history and folklore became derided as "old wives' tales." Official channels appeared, complete with government approval.

Yet as the official, tested, approved channels become designed more and more for the benefit of lawyers and less and less for the benefit of the people who actually work with said toxins, we are seeing a return to oral history and folklore -- isn't that what we would call it when the experienced chemist says to the younger, "The MSDS says you need this level of protective equipment, but I always do it this way..." Looks like we're culminating, once again, with the existence of two parallel channels of information: the official, approved, supposedly evidence-based, government-stamped, but increasingly useless one, and an anecdotal but much more useful, under-the-table library of ancient chemists' lore. Human nature's hard to beat: the old wives' tales, those channels of unofficial information, anonymous and thereby shielded from lawsuit, may win in the end.

Of course, these days we may call them "wikis"...

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44. Retread on June 5, 2009 10:26 AM writes...


Look at comment #2. It happened years ago in medicine.

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45. Michael on June 7, 2009 7:00 AM writes...

The "flush with water for 15 minutes" instruction has amused and annoyed me. Try flushing your eye with cold water for 15 minutes - it becomes agonizing after two or three, and it may delay more effective treatment. I read that for hydrofluoric acid it is much better to do little more than rinse it off and then vigorously rub calcium gluconate gel into the skin as hard as you can. Rinsing is apparently less effective than reacting the fluoride with calcium. If you apply this treatment to a colleague, different to the standard MSDS 15 minute rinse paragraph, where would you stand legally? Do you have to apply the less effective MSDS treatment, or be liable to attack by lawyers?

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46. spsp on June 11, 2009 4:12 AM writes...

It'd be interesting to start a wiki that explicitly lists the annoyances that substances create, rather than trying to be a comprehensive official safety document. For example there's nothing but "disagreeable odor" and those meaningless cleaning instructions for most odorous substances.

There should also be a gradation of "toxic". For example methanol has skull and crossbones just as hard methylating agents like dimethyl sulfate, which is just silly, considering their relative danger to life and health. You don't need a gas mask for methanol but you do for magic methyl.

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47. KateC on June 13, 2009 12:20 PM writes...

I think it's all a plot to discredit common sense and inflate "experts".

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48. Marc Guedes on October 27, 2009 5:59 PM writes...

I believe that the MSDS should never be forgotten by the chemistry, even more because it is an excellent tool for reading and research.
The association of such uselessness of MSDS with commercail and legal medias is, certainly, a matter to be argued. But we can not forget that the error is not the intention of having a security documente, but the misuse of this tool. Exemplifying, your placement on the MSDS of the sea ssand is completely valid, but we can't simply regard this fact as a constant.
The MSDS should rather be read and used by all laboratorists and chemists that use it. Important informations such as "the sand may cause cancer" do not remove the real purpose of the Material Safety Data Sheet.
Maybe there isa better way, but not in our model of society built up until nowadays. The company's profit, earnings, will always exists it, doesn't matter which is the vehicle used. What we can't forget, and that point one of the issues raised in your article, is that the law would always support one side. And I totally agree that "Trying to insulate everyone from liability is not something that can be done simultaneously with trying to inform people in case of emergency".
Inthe case of MSDS, the "liability trying" doesn't just exemplifies the presence of the law in its way: the law responsabilizes the employers to provide their employees with access to MSDSs and teach them how to work with MSDS. Training, knowledge and understanding of the techinical data on an MSDS will provide you with the skills, wisdom, and good judgement to safely deal with your oiccupational exposure to hazards.

Marc Guedes,
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
September 27th, 2009

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49. Gustavo on October 27, 2009 6:04 PM writes...

I don’t agree with the author because he talks about the MSDS like a thing that people don’t us frequently.
In my school, every student that studies “Síntese Orgânica” use MSDS to work on their projects. That’s because MSDS has a lot of information about any substance that you’re working with and helps to much in cases of accident (what’s normal in a laboratory).
I think the author of the text told that MSDS are not used by people because he’s thinking of people that have been working with chemistry for a long time. This kind of people know almost all things that they can do or not in a laboratory and don’t need a book to help them all the time. An example of this is that almost all the professors of my school don’t know what MSDS is, because they told that when they want to know something about a reagent, they consult other books and other people that work with them.
It is true that MSDS is used in most cases by students that are starting t work with new substances, but this doesn’t make the MSDS useless. I think the opposite. In my opinion, MSDS have a lot of importance, because it makes young students know more about some things that they need to know but anyone tells them.

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50. Lisa Lefevrer on October 27, 2009 7:32 PM writes...

I totally agreed with your article.I used MSDS last year and I was deeply worried about the substance that I had to use in the experiment.
Although,after a time reading different MSDSs I noticed that the infomation about security is almost the same for all the chemicals that I read and also some hazardous information is really stupid and unnecessary.

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51. Augusto Vieira on October 27, 2009 8:20 PM writes...

It’s completely true what Derek has said about MSDS on this web site. Not only was MSDS written with juridical language, but it does contain useless and nonsense information, even though it’s all true. The idea of this kind of catalog is good; however, it doesn’t work for chemists because of the vague sentences and the fact that almost all statements consider a crazy situation in which someone ingests or inhales tons of chemical reagents.
In this respect, I just want to congratulate the sincere, but rare, exposure of what MSDS really is and means. This autonomy to write is essential and escapes from the normal point of view.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
September 27th, 2009

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52. Carlos Eduardo de Paulo Silva on October 27, 2009 8:46 PM writes...

What Derek has said about MSDS is correct, completely correct. Something like a catalog about the chemistry reagents is a good idea, but loose confiability being on the internet.
The MSDS can be very useful for the initial students of chemistry, because it consider many crazy situations on the lab, situations like we don`t consider.
All in all, I agree when Derek says “MSDSs are often the next thing to useless”

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53. Elisa Barreto on October 28, 2009 5:06 PM writes...

I'm writting from Brazil just to say that I totally agree with you Derek!! I study at a federal school of Chemistry and I'm almost finishing the course.
After my 3 years in this school I have only known one teacher that really uses the MSDS, and even him doesn't use it very often. All the other teachers prefer to use the information from the labels of the products or their own experiences which they share with each other by talking or by the articles published by them.
I, myself, prefer to check the information of the chemicals with the teachers or in the producer's mannual, that gives exactly the information that I need.

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54. Mariana Gonçalves on October 28, 2009 6:31 PM writes...

I also study at a school of Chemistry for a little more than three years, and I only used information from MSDS once.
In my opinion, people that work in laboratories or industries on a daily basis are looking for more practical and reachable information, that can help them dealing with the chemicals they are working with. A lot of information contained on MSDS has no use for this kind of workers. But I don't think MSDS it's completely useless at all. For people who work stablishing standards, or those who work in the law department, can find on MSDS a real source of information for their work and arguments.

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55. Carlos Cattoi on October 29, 2009 5:24 PM writes...

I have read your article "On the uselessness of MSDS" and I totally agrre with author's point of view. I've been studying chemistry for more than three years and I never needed to use the informations given. Besides that, they are very exagerated about the problems that the substances causes. But in some cases, when we don't know anything about a substance that we need to use, using MSDS become a good option.

Carlos Cattoi,
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
October 29th, 2009

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56. Juliana Loiola on October 30, 2009 9:02 PM writes...

Actually we all know that MSDS doesn’t exist because it simply does. The website, for example, is a facility for researchers and is also achievable for everybody who’s interested on it. The problem, as you say, is some exaggerations which are there. For example, after you mentioned sea sand, I tried “sodium chloride� on MSDS. Fortunately, the website didn’t say it’s a cancer hazard. However, it showed the limit concentrations that may damage or harm our health and they’re too much! We must agree that it’s impossible an human being eat almost 180g of salt once (considering a person with 60kg). The problem with the law should be solved with a healthy dose of common sense from people. As you say, “there has to be a better way�.

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57. steve on November 6, 2009 2:48 PM writes...

Derek, the MSDS is more hazard based than risk based, so they may scare you more than you think they should. It does not rally take 'extensive' exposure to silica to cause silicosis. I find that it is not until they read the MSDS for clay, that art teachers understand the relationship between dry sweeping clay dust and silicosis. Thats when they take the sand paper away from the student and get that seam off of the ceramic mug with a sponge instead.Thats when they switch to ordering moist clay bodies instead of bags of dry clay. Look at that, useful MSDS's! I am not suprised that chemists find MSDS's useless.Just google laboratory injuries in schools and see how many chemistry teachers have put themselves or their stuents in the hospital for just not getting the importance of MSDS's and actually taking a moment to read one once in a while. I found your take on MSDS's quite silly. I would imagine that occupations such as those involving sandblasting, cramics, cement manufacturing, and others where respirable silica (from plain ole beach sand) is an issue might find your take on those useless MSDS's downright dangerous. Hey did you read about the chemists at MIT who recently set a boat on fire playing with sodium? Water reactive? Who knew!I must admit, without chemists who think like you, us safety folks would be out of a job. You received your Phd from Duke? Is that not where Dr.Woodhall Stoppford and his staff produce all of the MSDS's for all of the art and creative matrials used by children in the US? why dont you stop by his lab and remind him how useless his MSDS's are? Who was the chemistry chair at an Ivy league school who killed herself by wering the wrong gloves while working with dimethyl mercury? I think her last words were, MSDS? Bah humbug!

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58. steve on November 6, 2009 3:01 PM writes...

I love it. The chemists who formulate the highly toxic compounds in expensive consumer products are complaining about the laywers making money off of the MSDS's used as evidence in the wrongful death suit. Are you a comic or a chemist Mr. Lowe?

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59. Peter Broad on July 8, 2010 3:31 PM writes...

Sand you say..

Have you read the web page of that even more dangerous chemical dihydrogen monoxide see

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60. Débora Eiriz on October 12, 2010 5:48 PM writes...

Sir Derek,
I am a brazilian student and I have 18 years old. I agree with your poit of view in the text "On the uselessness of the MSDS". In my opinion the MSDS gives many information that aren't relevant to people who work with chemistry and it has been focusing only in the possible problems with justice. Maybe, would be good to do two kinds of MSDS, one with important cautions to chemists and another with the lawyer language, directed to the society in general. It would helps much more.

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61. Guilherme Carvalho on November 6, 2010 7:40 PM writes...

Dear Derek,
I'm a student of chemistry, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
I liked so much your discussion about the MSDS, and the utilization of it.
In the laboratory we don't have so much time to spend, because we have to work fast.
Then search a reagent and the effects can be very complicated, maybe boring.
Another problem refers about the damage that will never be caused, so MSDS become useless.
In my opinion it works very well in theory, however when we use MSDS in our daily life,
it doesn't work properly.
Best Regards, Guilherme

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62. Guilherme Campos Moreira on November 9, 2010 9:22 PM writes...

OMG! Derek, i totally agree with you. I also think that the MSDS shoud be something more direct and easy for chemists that in the lab needs to know the biological and enviromental risk. And because of the language used in the MSDS a lot of professionals don't even think about using it. If nothing gets done in the future we will see the end of MSDS.

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63. Caio Gama on November 9, 2010 10:04 PM writes...

Derek, you're absolutely right , this method is completely exaggerated with a description of all risk and cautions. That's just a smart and evil strategy used by company to avoid some actions and process. Because if that happens, they're free of some lose money by indemnification for damages or compensation. In my highschool, in the lab,we know about MSDS, but we don't use .this is a irresponsibility by part of my school. In my opinion i agree only with the nice part, but the bad part under the sleeve NO. Thanks for this information.

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64. Rafael Santos on November 13, 2010 6:04 PM writes...

Hello, Derek!
I agree with you on the useless of the MSDS. If a chemist uses the MSDS in the lab, his work becomes very complicated. Because the MSDS would scare more than help. However the MSDS is made like that to prevent problems with the law.

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65. Jéssica Goulart on November 16, 2010 7:32 PM writes...

Hi, Derek!
I'm studying chemistry for three and a half years and a few months ago a teacher showed me your text. I need to admit that I had never heard about MSDS before read your text. So, I decided to ask some teachers if they use the MSDS in the labs of my school and all of them said that they hate to work with MSDS, that is nothing pratical using it and that they really prefer to get informations of a chemical in any other source!
Imagine that you need to get an information of how act in an accident... I can't imagine MSDS being used in a emergency!
And although the informations found in MSDS are true, they are also exaggerated and create more panic than caution.
So, after read the MSDS for some chemicals, I couldn't agree more with you!
I believe that a good solve for this problem could be the creation of two kinds of MSDS, a concise one, to be used in the labs every day, and the one with the lawyer language to avoid problems. What do you think about it?

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66. searching on November 28, 2010 5:18 PM writes...

Well I'm not a chemist, just a person hunting for material safety data sheets for various indoor spray tanning products. The FDA has not authorized DHA to be sprayed, yet spray tanning is a million dollar industry. Health Canada has no concerns. I'm slowly finding evidence that ethanol is a common additive - Environment Canada has concerns about ethanol in personal care products but has apparently not been advised that ethanol is in spray tanning products.
I found evidence of ethanol in two MSDS and one lawsuit, other than that, it looks like the product names are changed ( prevent searches?)
So I will add my concerns to your list of frustrations; Joe Public is not well served by the current system!

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67. João Almeida on November 29, 2010 5:42 PM writes...

Sir Derek,
I'm a student from Brazil and your point is interisting and true. The MSDS is out of use as you said, is only used in special cases (lawsuit). As a future chemical technician. I agree with your point, because in our every day lives, only small text about the product are use. Usually it's what i need.

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68. Magda on November 30, 2010 5:38 PM writes...

Hi, Derek,
I'm a brazilian student, I liked and I agree with your text, the MSDS have much desnecessary information about security, so it is little used.


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69. Rodrigo on November 30, 2010 6:36 PM writes...

I read your article "On the uselessness of MSDS" and your point of view about "On the uselessness of MSDS" is right with others authors . I’m almost finish the couser about Chemistry and after 4 years studying I only see few teachers using the MSDS and the others only use your experiences with this methods. I wanna to congratulate you because your article and say that your sincerity is respectful and I’m your fan.

Rodrigo Cardoso, Brazil

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70. Rodrigo on November 30, 2010 6:36 PM writes...

I read your article "On the uselessness of MSDS" and your point of view about "On the uselessness of MSDS" is right with others authors . I’m almost finish the couser about Chemistry and after 4 years studying I only see few teachers using the MSDS and the others only use your experiences with this methods. I wanna to congratulate you because your article and say that your sincerity is respectful and I’m your fan.

Rodrigo Cardoso, Brazil

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71. Alexandre on November 30, 2010 7:32 PM writes...

Hello Derick.
i'm from Brazil and i'm a student of chemistry technical area.
I read your text and in my opinion the MSDS is a really overdone view of the product. I think the most important informations should be aimed to only profissionals of the area because of a marketing point. However, it should be noted that it could suit as a protection, since it doesn't be very extreme.

Alexandre Andrade, Brazil

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72. Eriko on November 30, 2010 9:00 PM writes...

your text is very interesting. I'm a student of chemistry, from Brazil, and i agree with you about MSDS are often the next thing to useless. The MSDS should be more specific, for work with a material, bringing specific information and cautions for work in laboratory, and not too alarming.

Eriko Marini

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73. Renan Martins on December 1, 2010 3:35 PM writes...

The MSDS isn't so practical, that's why it is so ignored...

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74. Renan Martins on December 1, 2010 3:38 PM writes...

It doesn't make it a guiding book in lab, but a source of security informations BEFORE you start working on something in the lab.

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75. Luciana on December 1, 2010 6:55 PM writes...

Hi Derek.I do not agree with your idea.I think the MSDS is very important , but nobody give the due importance.

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76. Glauber on December 1, 2010 8:56 PM writes...

Sir Derek,

I read your text and i thought about that.Then , in my opinion you are sure. Actually, the people are with bad intentions, so the MSDS has to be very especefic.For that, the MSDS is becoming a little boring and the people aren't using it.


Glauber Dantas

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77. bigdamnjason on August 5, 2011 12:50 PM writes...

I disagree..

PPE is the last line of defence where common sense is our first whenever protecting ourselves from harmful products.

There are numerous catastrophic events that have been prevented by the heroic and correct application of MSDS information by informed individuals - one only need look to accidents involving Dangerous Goods Transportation for proof.

MSDS remains a valuable tool wherever common sense fails whether it be due to ignorance (ie: absense of knowledge) or whenever extreme employer pressure over employees exists (even in the workforces today).

Common sense is anything but common - perfectly portrayed by the examples given in many of the comments above.

Why not argue the value of MSDS with those who have lost their faces, their limbs, eyesight, fingers, or even beloved family members due to the absence of MSDS knowledge that have would have eliminated the loss?

Like anything, when MSDS is understood and used correctly - it's an invaluable tool. When it's treated with ignorance and swung around blindly - someone, eventually, is guaranteed to get hurt.

I hope that never happens to any of you.

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78. Rochelle Ho on February 23, 2012 3:55 PM writes...

appreciate the effort you put into getting us this details. Was looking on google and identified your post randomly.

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79. Nila Bubb on August 18, 2012 10:03 AM writes...

Greetings from Colorado! I'm bored to tears at work so I decided to browse your site on my iphone during lunch break. I enjoy the info you provide here and can't wait to take a look when I get home. I'm amazed at how quick your blog loaded on my cell phone .. I'm not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, very good site!

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80. on October 3, 2014 7:10 AM writes...

It makes it the first choice with the users and also the most wanted and comfy P2P torrent engine
ever produced in the world. When you make a juice from dark, leafy greens, try adding in a little cucumber.
OR that China counts for upwards of 34 percent of all current torrent connections to The Pirate Bay.

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81. Anonymouse on May 8, 2015 6:53 PM writes...

My favourite MSDS statement of all time comes from when I was in H&S briefly using MSD sheets of all kinds of plastics to generate and ammend safety protocols. An MSDS for one of the plastics stated that 'ingestion of the hot melt can result in severe internal injuries.' As if to say that the manufacturer is not liable if the end user is the kind of person who eats molten plastic...

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