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Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

What Is an MSDS?

An Material Safety Data Sheet is a document that contains important data for a chemical compound.  This data includes the chemical constituents information as well as the physical properties of the compound.  The MSDS also typically includes handling and disposal recommendations for the compound. In addition the MSDS will provide toxicity, exposure information and other hazards associated with  the compound. Thus, MSDSs are  an important tool in promoting and maintaining laboratory safety and should be referred to whenever there is a question about how to use, store or dispose of a compound. 

What Chemicals Need an MSDS?

The short answer is “almost all”.  MSDSs are needed for all compounds that are used in the research or educational process.  The only items that do not need an MSDS are those household type products that are used in the same quantity and application one would use in a home.  All other items, ranging from analytes from chemical suppliers to specialty industrial products to spray paint to adhesives, require an MSDS. 

Where Do I Find an MSDS?

For many compounds, MSDSs are often included in the product shipment. However, the most useful form of an MSDS in electronic format.  Frequently, MSDSs can be downloaded from the manufacturer.  If necessary, contact the manufacturer directly for the MSDS and have a .pdf emailed to you. Whatever the method, be sure to get the right MSDS, as analyte names and product lines can be  sometimes be confusing. This includes containers of reaction products or byproducts as well as separation processes such as distillations and extractions.


Ensuring You Have the Correct MSDS

At first glance, you may thing an MSDS for a common compound is the same. But they can vary according to manufacturer and revision. Check the following to make sure the MSDS you have is appropriate for the compound you are using.

  • Manufacturer

    You must be sure to get an MSDS for the manufacturer of the compound you have. For example, if you have Sigma-Aldrich ethyl alcohol, you must have the MSDS from Sigma-Aldrich. An MSDS from another supplier cannot be used.

  • MSDS Revision

    MSDSs are often updated to reflect the product changes or current understanding about toxicity, etc. You must have the MSDS that is associated with the date of manufacture for the chemical you have in your inventory.  For example, if you purchased a compound in 2007, you need the MSDS that was written for that compound, even if there may be a newer version available. Similarly, if you have an MSDS from 2006 for a compound you have been purchasing for some time, you can only use it for current purchases only if the MSDS has not been revised over that time. Otherwise, you need to get the current version.

    It is this need of ensuring you have the correct  MSDS for the particular product you have in inventory underscores the importance of MSDS record acquisition at the time the chemicals are brought in, as that is the only time the MSDS are likely to be readily available.

  • Format

    While hardcopies are required for the Laboratory Notebooks, MSDS information is also stored in .pdf form for each lab.  For this reason, a copy of the MSDS in .pdf is needed. Having the .pdf version will also allow quick replacement of an MSDS that is lost or damaged in the laboratory.

    If you only have a hardcopy, please have it scanned and converted to .pdf so that it can be included in your lab’s MSDS folder online. Your department admin can assist with this process.

How To Maintain MSDS Records For Your Lab or Facility

Maintaining proper MSDS records for your lab is a critical responsibility for the Principal Investigator or Instructor. As mentioned earlier, you must have an MSDS that is associated with every compound you have in your chemical inventory. In addition, you must retain an MSDS after the compound is discarded.


For example, if you replenished methylene chloride with new stock, and there was a revision change in the MSDS between the old stock and the new stock, you need to retain the MSDS for the old stock as well as have the MSDS for the new stock. A good plan for keeping MSDSs records orderly is the following:


When A New Analyte is Acquired

  • Download the .pdf of the current MSDS from the manufacturer for each compound requested, even for compounds that have already been used in the lab. (This is per COEN chemical order policy).
  • Print out a hardcopy of the MSDS for your lab safety notebook.
  • Mark it at the top with the the purchase date, ex. “Purchased 23-Feb-08”.
  • Insert the hardcopy in the MSDS section of the Laboratory Safety Notebook

When An Analyte is Transferred From Another Lab

  • Email the COEN Safety Liaison notifying them of the transfer. Include in the email a .pdf copy of the MSDS to the COEN Safety Liaison and include the date of purchase (if available) and the date of transfer.
  • Print out a hardcopy of the MSDS and mark it at the top with the the transfer date and lab it was transferred from, ex. “Transferred from MEC 213 on 20-Mar-09”.
  • Insert the hardcopy in the MSDS section of the Laboratory Safety Notebook


When An Analyte is Used Up or Disposed Of

  • Email a .pdf copy of the MSDS to the COEN Safety Liaison. Include both the date(s) of acquisition/transfer and the date of disposition in the email.
  • Mark the hardcopy of the MSDS at the top with the the disposition date, ex. “Disposed of 11-Apr-09”.
  • Remove the hardcopy MSDS from the Laboratory Safety Notebook and place it in a separate folder labeled “Retired Chemicals- 20YY” so that it includes the year retired. Keep this folder in a safe place.


Please contact the COEN Safety Liaison if you have any questions or comments about content on this website. 

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