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UNDERSTANDING MSDS SHEETS
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Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are the cornerstone of chemical hazard communication and central to the safe handling of hazardous substances.  They provide most of the information needed to work with the material safely.  Hence it is important as well as a legal requirement that users have easy access to them. Every hazardous material  (listed on the chemical hazard inventory) must have a corresponding MSDS, which is readily available to the user of the material.

MSDSs may be obtained by way of the following: 

  1. in the shipment from manufacturer as part of the purchase requirements
  2. from the manufactures hotline/fax/Web page
  3. from a web search of online databases
  4. from published safety references at EH&S (for generic material safety data)

The manufactures are required by OSHA to provide MSDSs but sometimes it is difficult to obtain information for old chemicals, from small companies and consumer products.  In general, the preferred source for MSDS is the chemical manufacturer, because these files are actively updated to reflect all that is known about the hazardous material in question.   Most major chemical suppliers provide a toll-free number and will fax the latest MSDS to purchasers.  Material Safety Data Sheets are also often available via the manufactures home web page.

As part of the purchase agreement, EH&S also receives MSDSs for chemicals purchased by NMSU.  These are filed by substance and copies can be made.  Requested MSDS can be retrieved during the normal work shift.

Other sources of chemical safety information include online searches and published safety references.  Several industrial and academic institutes have inactive search engines available.  Safety references and chemical dictionaries (e.g. SAX, Hawleys, or the NFPA Handbook to Hazardous Chemicals) can provide generic safety information.  EH&S has several handbooks which you may review.

Understanding the information on an MSDS is important  The following explains the information normally provided on an MSDS: 

Product Name and Identification  

1.      Name of the chemical as it appears on the label. 
2.      Manufacturer's name and address. 
3.      Emergency telephone numbers: used to obtain further information about a chemical in the event of an emergency.  
4.      Chemical name or synonyms. 
5.       C.A.S. #: refers to the Chemical Abstract Service registry number that identifies the chemical. 
6.      Date of Preparation: the most current date that the MSDS was prepared. 

Hazardous Ingredients/Identify Information 

1.       Hazardous ingredients: substances that, in sufficient concentration, can produce physical or acute or chronic health hazards to persons exposed to the product.
a.       Physical hazards include fire, explosions, corrosion, and projectiles.
b.       Health hazards include any health effect, even including irritation or development of allergies. 
2.      TLV: refers to the Threshold Limit Value.  A TLV is the highest airborne concentration of a substance to which nearly all adults can be repeatedly exposed, day after day, without experiencing adverse effects.  These are usually based on an eight-hour time weighted average. 
3.       PEL: refers to the Permissible Exposure Limit.  The PEL is an exposure limit established by OSHA, normally for an eight hour exposure.  
4.       STEL: refers to the Short Term Exposure Limit.  The STEL is a 15-minute time-weighted average exposure that should not be exceeded at any time during a workday.  A STEL exposure should not occur more than four times per day and there should be at least 60 minutes between exposures. 
5.      LD50 (lethal dose 50): lethal single dose (usually oral) in mg/kg (milligrams of chemical per kilogram of animal body weight) of a chemical that results in the death of 50% of a test animal population. 
6.       LC50 (lethal concentration 50): concentration dose expressed in ppm for gases or micrograms of material per liter of air for dusts or mists that results in the death of 50% of a test animal population administered in one exposure.  

Physical/Chemical Characteristics   

1.      Boiling point, vapor pressure, vapor density, specific gravity, melting point, appearance, and odor; all provide useful information about the chemical.
2.       Boiling point and vapor pressure provide a good indication of the volatility of a material.
3.       Vapor density indicates whether vapors will sink, rise, or disperse throughout the area.  The further the values are from one (the value assigned to atmospheric air), the faster the vapors will sink or rise.  

Fire and Explosion Hazard Data  

1.      Flashpoint: refers to the lowest temperature at which a liquid gives off enough vapor to form an ignitable mixture with air. 
2.       Flammable or Explosive Limits: the range of concentrations over which a flammable vapor mixed with air will flash or explode if an ignition source is present. 
3.      Extinguishing Media: the fire fighting substance that is suitable for use on the substance that is burning. 
4.       Unusual Fire and Explosive Hazards: hazards that might occur as the result of overheating or burning of the specific material.  

Reactivity Data 

1.       Stability: indicates whether the material is stable or unstable under normal conditions of storage, handling, and use. 
2.       Incompatibility: lists any materials that would, upon contact with the chemical, cause the release of large amounts of energy, flammable vapor or gas, or toxic vapor or gas. 
3.       Hazardous Decomposition Products: any materials that may be produced in dangerous amounts if the specific material is exposed to burning, oxidation, or heating, or allowed to react with other chemicals. 
4.       Hazardous Polymerization: a reaction with an extremely high or uncontrolled release of energy, caused by the material reacting with itself.  

Health Hazard Data 

1.      Routes of Entry:  
a.       Inhalation - breathing in of a gas, vapor, fume, mist, or dust.  
b.       Skin absorption - a possible significant contribution to overall chemical exposure by way of absorption through the skin, mucous membranes, and eyes by direct or airborne contact.   
c.Ingestion - the taking up of a substance through the mouth.  
d.       Injection - having a material penetrate the skin through a cut or by mechanical means. 
2.      Health Hazards (acute and chronic):  
e.Acute - an adverse effect with symptoms developing rapidly.  
f. Chronic - an adverse effect that can be the same as an acute effect, except that the symptoms develop slowly over a long period of time or with recurrent exposures. 
3.       Carcinogen - a substance that is determined to be cancer producing or potentially cancer producing.  
4.       Signs and Symptoms of Overexposure: The most common symptoms or sensations a person could expect to experience from overexposure to a specific material.  It is important to remember that only some symptoms will occur with exposures in most people. 
5.       Emergency and First Aid Procedures: Instructions for treatment of a victim of acute inhalation, ingestion, and skin or eye contact with a specific hazardous substance.  The victim should be examined by a physician as soon as possible.   

Precautions for Safe Handling and Use  

1.       Spill Clean up: includes methods to be used to control and clean up spills.  Also includes precautions such as to avoid breathing the vapors, avoiding contact with liquids and solids, removing sources of ignition, and other important considerations.  May also include special equipment used for the clean up. 
2.       Waste Disposal Methods: acceptable and prohibited methods for disposal as well as dangers to the environment.
 
Note: The methods recommended by the chemical manufacturer do not necessarily comply with federal, state, or local regulations.  Call EH&S for disposal or information. 
 
3.       Other Precautions: any other precautionary measures not mentioned elsewhere in the MSDS. 

Control Measures 

1.       Respiratory Protection: whenever respiratory protection is needed, the type required and special conditions or limitations should be listed. 
2.      Ventilation: if required, the type will be listed as well as applicable conditions of use and limitations. 
3.       Protective Gloves: when gloves are necessary to handle the specific material, the construction, design, and material requirements should be listed. 
4.       Eye Protection: when special eye protection is required, the type will be listed along with any conditions of use and limitations. 
5.       Other Protective Equipment or Clothing: lists items, such as aprons, not discussed elsewhere in the MSDS. 

If you have other questions on MSDSs or other problems concerning hazardous materials, environment, health or safety concerns, call EH&S at 646-3327.   Thank you. 

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Contact Information 
 Environmental Health& Safety: MSC-3578, P.O. Box 30001, Academic Research Bldg. C, Rm. 109
    Street delivery address: NMSU, 1620 Standley Dr., Academic Research Bldg. C, Las Cruces, NM 88003
    Training Office: Academic Research Unit C, rm110 (see map ), 
    Telephone: 575-646-3327; FAX: 575-646-7898. Website - http://www.nmsu.edu/safety
    Send email to David Shearer, EH&S (click here) with questions or comments about this web site. 
    This page was last updated on 08/22/2008