Finding Chemical Data
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How can you find the health, safety, and environmental information you need to evaluate janitorial products? Sometimes you can get enough just by reading product material safety data sheets (MSDS). However, you may also need to look elsewhere to get a complete picture.

Chemical Information Sources

Product Labels

Product MSDSs

Manufacturer's Customer
Service Desk

Ingredient MSDSs

Ingredient Risk Studies

Ingredient Health Studies

Product Label - Container labels begin to tell the story of how to use the product safely. However, limited space means that some information may be left out. Some manufacturers offer paper copies of their labels that are often easier to read.

Product MSDS - Call the supplier to request a current MSDS if you did not get one when you purchased the product. Do the same thing if you have any MSDS that is over two years old. Upon reading it, does this MSDS tell you what you need to know? Be wary of what you read. Although OSHA specifies what information must appear, not all MSDSs are complete nor are they necessarily accurate.

Customer Service - Call the manufacturer if you cannot find what you need to know on the MSDS. For example, ask if the product you are using contains any alkyl phenol ethoxylate, a chemical that damages human and animal hormone systems. If the service desk cannot answer your questions, then talk to a chemist in the manufacturer's research or production departments.

Ingredient Data - Some suppliers have very limited chemical information, particularly when their products are formulated and labeled in their behalf by another firm. If the supplier cannot answer your questions about product safety, then consider researching the ingredients yourself.

Our opinions about certain high-risk ingredients are discussed on our Janitorial Product Risk Evaluation page.

MSDS Section


What To Look For


Product Identification

Product name and number

Manufacturer's phone number



List of all ingredients (not just those required by OSHA)

Percentage of each ingredient

CAS identification number


Health Hazards

Risks to eyes, skin, lungs

Risk of absorbing through skin

Risk of poisoning & other long-term effects


Special Protection

Need for gloves, goggles, and ventilation


Physical Data


Vapor pressure of more than 20


Fire Data



Reactivity Data

Things to keep this product away from


Spill Response

What to do with wastes


Special Precautions

Highest risks from using the product



Shipping and labeling requirements

Note: Some newer MSDSs have 16 sections.






Call a firm that makes basic chemical ingredients, or check their web site.

The following web sites are good starting places for chemical ingredient data:
J.T. Baker Index of MSDS
Canadian Network of Toxicology Centres

Risk Ratings


Environmental Defense Fund

Purdue University

Health Studies


New Jersey

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

General Information


OSHA's Hazardous & Toxic Substances website

This site provides general information about hazardous and toxic substances and links to related technical information sites for things like hazard evaluations, protective equipment, compliance and training.

Where To Get More Information - General information about product safety appears in "Cleaning & Maintenance Management", "Services", and other trade magazines. Some of these publications also list their articles on the internet. For example, refer to

You should also consider contacting your health department, county hospital, or local sewer agency. If you review a lot of chemical products it might also make sense to retain the services of an industrial hygiene professional.

Janitorial Products Pollution Prevention Project - Sponsored by US EPA, State of California, Santa Clara County, the City of Richmond, and the Local Government Commission. Written by Thomas Barron, Carol Berg, and Linda Bookman. 7/99.