As every laboratory-based researcher knows, Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), nowadays often called simply Safety Data Sheets (SDS)*, are very important as sources of crucial information related to workplace safety and occupational health. These documents, associated individually with every laboratory chemical, contain information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity and environmental) and instructions for safely storing, handling, and working with the said chemical. It also lists emergency procedures to undertake in case of accidental spillage of the material or unprotected exposure to the same.

As one can imagine, these documents, provided by the manufacturers of these materials, are an invaluable resource for formulating reasonable occupational safety and health programs at institutions for scientific research and healthcare in compliance with Federal and State regulatory requirements. The information in MSDSs is targeted towards anyone who works, or comes in contact, with the chemicals, which includes employers, workers, supervisors, healthcare professionals, and emergency responders, including firefighters. Therefore, in order to ensure that MSDS provides the required information quickly and easily, these documents are presented in an easily-readable format and written in a clear, precise and understandable manner, with instructions for looking up further information if necessary. In the US, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the Department of Labor determines the Hazard Communication (or “HazCom”) Standard (HCS), which specifies what kind of information must be included on these documents; Canada and European countries have their own similar agencies performing the same function.

So long, the MSDSs were required to have 9 categories of information. However, recently, OSHA has recommended that MSDSs henceforth follow a more comprehensive 16-category format that was established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as a standard for MSDS preparation. According to OSHA:

By following this recommended format, the information of greatest concern to workers is featured at the beginning of the data sheet, including information on chemical composition and first aid measures. More technical information that addresses topics such as the physical and chemical properties of the material and toxicological data appears later in the document. While some of this information (such as ecological information) is not required by the HCS, the 16-section MSDS is becoming the international norm. The 16 sections are: (1) Identification (2) Hazard(s) identification (3) Composition/information on ingredients (4) First-aid measures (5) Fire-fighting measures (6) Accidental release measures (7) Handling and storage (8) Exposure controls/personal protection (9) Physical and chemical properties (10) Stability and reactivity (11) Toxicological information (12) Ecological information (13) Disposal considerations (14) Transport information (15) Regulatory information (16) Other information.

There are many ways to access the MSDS of chemicals. By law, the Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) offices of institutions are required to keep and provide copies of specific MSDSs. However, these documents are now available online also, from the websites of individual manufacturers, as well as from large online databases. Many universities around the world (including my own) have contracted with a chemicals management and MSDS repository system called ChemWatch to provide this information.


Being of a naturally curious bent of mind, I accessed ChemWatch via my institution’s HSE, and did a search for the MSDS for that important laboratory chemical present in various buffers and solutions, namely, Water. You know, water, aqua, agua, ap, paani, H2O, or more popularly, DHMO/dihydrogen monoxide; the same.

The MSDS for Water was largely unremarkable. However, there were some gems in there. A few instances:

Product Identifier
Product name: WATER
Chemical Symbol: H2O
Other means of identification: Not available. Erm… How about ‘visual’? No?
First Aid Measures
Eye/Skin Contact or Ingestion: Generally not applicable. Ahem! ‘Generally’?
Precautions for Safe Handling
Safe handling: Generally not applicable.
Other information: Store away from incompatible materials and foodstuff containers.
Storage incompatibility: None known. Ah! Well then.
Exposure Control/Personal protection
Eye and face protection: Generally not applicable.
Skin protection: See Hand protection below
Hand protection: Generally not applicable.
Body protection: See Other protection below
Other protection: Generally not applicable. I am not kidding. It really does say these.
Basic Physical and Chemical properties
Solubility in water (g/L): Mixes.
Flammability: Not available. Seriously? ‘Not available’?
Information on Toxicological effects
Chronic: Long-term exposure to the product is not thought to produce chronic effects adverse to health (as classified by EC Directives using animal models); nevertheless exposure by all routes should be minimised as a matter of course. Methinks this needs a precise definition of the manner of ‘exposure’.
Skin irritation/corrosion or Eye irritation: Not available. Does ‘shrinkage’ qualify?
Mutagenicity or Carcinogenicity: Not available. How about just ‘No’, or ‘None’?
Ecological information: persistence and degradability
Ingredient: Not available.
Persistence:Water/Soil Not available.
Persistence:Air Not available. Of course not. Stands to reason, right? How can WATER persist in ‘water/soil’ or in ‘air’?

Heh, a rare lazy Monday morning of nerdy fun… [- wide grin! -] I’ll get my coat. KTHXBAI.

* This new short form ‘SDS’… How’d it go with finding the Safety Data Sheet of that ubiquitous molecular biology lab reagent Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate? I am looking for SDS’s SDS. What, a grand-SDS?… I probably shouldn’t quit my day job for improv yet.