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Chemical safety information online

Last year, PubChem introduced a new feature called Laboratory Chemical Safety Summary (LCSS). This is a new way to get the type of health & safety information normally found in material safety data sheets (MSDS)—except that you may find even more information, more easily. As of today, 3,290 compounds have LCSS information available in the database, and you can find all of them here.

LCSS is a commendable example of information about health and environmental hazards being neatly integrated, organized, and presented alongside other valuable types of information—in this case within the huge data infrastructure of PubChem.

If you’re unfamiliar with PubChem, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you should take a look. Dynamic and constantly growing, it publishes a wealth of chemical information online using open standards. This includes 3D structures, names and identifiers, physical properties, bioassays, commercial sources, regulatory information, and linked data from other useful sources. A recent peer-reviewed paper has more details.

The developers, Sunghwan Kim and colleagues, described LCSS on their own blog and in a 2015 paper, in which they also provided examples and described the data sources. Notably, LCSS draws upon hazard classifications made by national government agencies from around the world based on the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), an international standard of growing importance in the U.S. This is the system that defines the warning phrases and pictograms that appear on bottles of chemicals.

More free safety resources

It’s worth noting that there are other free databases of health & safety information that go beyond MSDS.

While LCSS is geared towards laboratory safety, and is presumably aimed at chemists, the use of chemicals in workplaces extends to a wide range of industries—and therefore so do the risks. Helping everyone minimize occupational hazards is the goal of ChemHAT (Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox), designed by and for workers.

If you’re looking for more detailed scientific information on chemical toxicity and environmental hazards, NLM’s Hazardous Substances Data Bank is an excellent resource that’s expert-reviewed and full of citations. Much of its content is linked or mirrored in PubChem.

Finally, if you want to learn about how to avoid using a hazardous substance—that is, how to substitute it with a safer alternative—then check out Substitution Portal, which includes a database of case studies and a set of resources to help guide green technological transitions.

There are actually many more online resources that can help inform the health and environmental hazard reduction goals of green chemistry. These are just some of the most immediately accessible ones. Stay tuned for more on the broader universe of open chemical hazard data.

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