About MDD - Subscription Info
December 2000
Vol. 9, No. 12, pp. 26–28.
Focus: Chemical Safety
and the Web


opening artIt's a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World

But you can find a wealth of chemical safety information buried under the big WWW.

Unlike the comedians in the classic film farce It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, who showed a notorious disinterest for safety in their pursuit of buried treasure under a big W (composed of four crossed palm trees in a public park), laboratory chemists must consider safety a primary goal. It’s a potentially “bad” or dangerous world at both work and home; and chemicals, despite their benefits, can be one of the chief sources of danger in many instances. Luckily, some of the keys to safety lie buried under the big WWW.

Real-life hurts do not disappear like those in screen comedies. Preparing in advance can mean the difference between a merely disturbing episode and a tragedy. This is best done by education (independently or in a company-wide program), proper planning, and having rapid access to safety information during emergencies. Today, on-site computer networks and the Web can provide a treasury of safety information for both planning for and immediately responding to hazardous situations. Chemical health and safety issues have found a permanent home on the Web, which boasts everything from clearly defined response protocols, material safety data sheets (MSDS), and emergency contact numbers and organizations to a host of readily available articles, government studies, and even onlinetraining courses.

The vastness of the Web and the redundancies therein make it impossible to do a complete survey of useful chemical safety sites or to provide all possible sources of particular safety information or products. This article provides only a cursory sampling of what is available.

Selected Government Chemical
Health and Safety Sites
National Toxicology Program, http://ntp-server.

U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, www.chemsafety.gov

CDC Office of Health and Safety Information System, www.cdc.gov/od/ohs/default.htm

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, www.osha.gov

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html

U.S. EPA, www.epa.gov

Home Chemical Safety
When one thinks of chemical safety, the first thought is on-the-job safety; however, in the modern world, it is often the home where such information is most lacking. Children, adults, pets, and the home environment can all be at risk. The time to consult the Web is obviously not during an actual chemical emergency—calling 911 and implementing previously determined responses to such accidents should be the only considerations. Access to a local poison control center is particularly important and one can be located by means of the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) Web site, listed below. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) provides a poison control center for pets.

AAPCC list of approved poison control centers for each state, www.aapcc.org

AAPCC brochure: Preventing poisoning in the home, www.aapcc.org/ppwbrochure.htm

Pesticide information for consumers from the California EPA, www.cdpr.ca.gov/docs/factshts/factmenu.htm

ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center, www.napcc.aspca.org

Selected Nongovernment and University Chemical Health and Safety Sites
ABSA home page, www.absa.org/index.htm

ACHMM home page, www.achmm.org

Cornell University MSDS site, http://msds.pdc.cornell.edu/msdssrch.asp

Cornell University Lab Safety Manual, www.chem.cornell.

Multi-university extension service Extoxnet (specific information on pesticide toxicity), http://ace.ace.orst.edu/info/extoxnet/

MATC laboratory technician program Laboratory Safety Links page, http://biotech.madison.tec.wi.us/safety_links.htm

Michigan State University Environmental Health and Safety, www.orcbs.msu.edu

Howard Hughes Medical Institute laboratory safety page, www.hhmi.org/science/labsafe

ACCouncil (see Responsible Care Program), www.cmahq.com

SOCMA, www.socma.com

ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety, http://chas.cehs.siu.edu/

Oxford University Chemical and Other Safety Information, http://physchem.ox.ac.uk/MSDS/

Pitt Community College safety links, http://styx.pitt.cc.nc.us/sci/dept/safetlnk.htm

Government Chemical Safety Sites
Some of the best places to learn about the overall status of safety regulations and the most recent large-scale studies on chemical safety issues are on the host of national and international government sites dedicated to serving both industry and consumers.

In the past, tracking down government reports was often a Herculean task fit only for the most intrepid librarians or determined citizens. Such brave individuals had to have the time to wait for information to be mailed to them or to trot down to the nearest documents repository for a copy of the desired information, presuming they could discover its existence at all.

If the Web has changed one thing, it has been to allow easier access to information from the federal government, and increasingly, from state and local governments. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site, for example, has online manuals dealing with general lab safety as well as chemical, biological, and radiation safety. A partial list of some useful government sites is included in this article (see box, “Selected Government Chemical Health and Safety Sites”).

Nongovernment and University Sites
Increasingly, university and public advocacy and information agencies offer information on chemical health and safety on the Web (see box, “Selected Nongovernment and University Chemical Health and Safety Sites”). Nearly every university with a Web presence and a chemistry department has made routine safety information available to students and university laboratory workers, often via individual faculty or departmental Web pages. Larger institutions, most of which have divisions of chemical health and safety, have major portals to such information, including routine access to state legislation and university safety regulations, as well as to the offices of local chemical health and safety officers who can address a wide variety of safety concerns.

The Madison Area Technical College (MATC) site has a particularly useful links page detailing a host of sites with general laboratory safety (including chemical safety) information. Many nonprofit organizations and professional societies have pertinent information on their Web pages, including the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Biological Safety Association (ABSA), and the Academy of Certified Hazardous Materials Managers (ACHMM). Industrial partnerships such as the American Chemistry Council (ACC) (formerly the Chemical Manufacturers Association) and the Synthetic Organic Chemical Manufacturers Association (SOCMA) are also valuable sources of industrial safety information, especially “responsible care” programs and commentary on new and evolving safety regulations.

Commercial Sites
Nearly every commercial site for purchasing chemicals and chemical instrumentation on the Web provides its own version of or links to pertinent health and safety information as a service to its clients and the general public. Indeed, major manufacturers such as Dow Chemical Co. also provide such information free of charge. Chemical suppliers such as J.T. Baker, Fisher, and Sigma-Aldrich also have begun to provide easy Web access to the appropriate MSDS material for the products they sell. In addition, commercial educational sites such as Interactive Learning Paradigms, Inc. (ILP) often provide free information as a draw to their sites (www.ilpi.com/msds).

Safety Software
Much of the chemical safety software available from commercial sources is designed primarily to permit efficient and rapid handling of MSDS files and related material. In addition to intranet or on-site computer systems containing the information, a new form of provider has developed to deliver Web-based or Web-using MSDS systems with specific adaptations available for individual clients’ needs. These Web-based systems ease chemical inventory management and offer real-time safety information. MSDS Navigator by HRPress is one such product. Some software systems, such as ChemSW’s CISProWeb Chemical Inventory System and Logical Technology, Inc.’s Hazmin software use the Web as a primary or an alternate location for maintaining the database system without the need to install the actual software on any of the company’s computers.

Web-Based Courses
Increasingly, various forms of professional training have become available through the Internet. Web-based safety courses have been early entries in the race to the Web despite the popularity and almost universal necessity of tailored in-house training for people who actually work with hazardous chemicals in laboratory or factory conditions.

As well as university-based Web courses offered as part of traditional academic programs that have adopted distance learning techniques, companies such as ILP and others offer individually tailored courses in chemical hygiene via the Web. Many organizations are also beginning to provide Web-based training such as that offered by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (www.aiha.org). The Howard Hughes Medical Institute offers an online laboratory safety course that anyone can sign up for on the Web and take immediately.

At the end of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, the comedians lose their newfound riches in a wild catastrophe of sequential accidents. Each of them winds up in the hospital, broke, broken, and under arrest—in large part because of all the mayhem they had caused—with nothing to show for it. The safety information available on the Web can just as easily prove a loss if it is not used to implement authentic changes in laboratory practice.

The job of safety has been made easier by the computer revolution and the advent of the big WWW. It has by no means gone away.

(All Web sites accessed November 2000)

Mark S. Lesney is senior editor of Today’s Chemist at Work. Comments and questions for the author can be addressed to the Editorial Office by e-mail at tcaw@acs.org, by fax at 202-776-8166 or by post at 1155 16th Street, NW; Washington, DC 20036.

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