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May 9, 2005 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 83, Issue 19

Safer approaches to MSDSs

I read your article on material safety data sheets with great interest (C&EN, Feb. 7, page 24). As a practicing medical toxicologist, I and others have also been greatly frustrated with MSDSs. Much of the health care section is unreferenced, and users frequently accept what is written as the absolute truth. In addition, the health information section often states that there is no information and that users should seek health care information.

I do use MSDSs to find out main ingredients (although I still may not know of other "inert" ingredients that may cause toxicity), especially when a patient uses a trade name. Past that use, I find little practical information for managing someone after exposure or informing patients on precautions to take prior to using these products. I hope that the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) takes a step toward making the information contained in MSDSs more useful to all their users.

John G. Benitez
Rochester, N.Y.


Although hazard communication violations are consistently among the OSHA top 10 citations for the year, OSHA's head-in-the-sand attitude toward the quality of MSDSs is at least as dangerous as employers who may not have the sheets immediately available to employees.

As head of one of the Midwest's premier hazmat training organizations and senior editor of the text "Managing Hazardous Materials," I have had decades of experience watching employees and employers try to make sense of MSDSs. Yet many MSDSs supplied by manufacturers and distributors are not only inaccurate, they are completely unreadable.

OSHA should provide a $50 bounty to each person who first supplies them with a copy of an MSDS that is illegible or does not provide an answer to one of the required data items on an MSDS under 29 CFR 1910.1200. Since both of these conditions violate the law, OSHA can then turn around and fine the supplier of the MSDS $500 and require rewriting the sheet, with copies (as required by 1910.1200) to be sent to all purchasers of the product within six months.

It would only take about one year of such enforcement to completely revamp the system.

Jack E. Leonard

Bethe's chemical legacy

Although Hans A. Bethe's contributions to astrophysics and nuclear physics are indisputable and earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967, his recent obituary failed to recognize one of his most significant contributions to chemistry (C&EN, March 14, page 11). Crystal field theory (CFT) was introduced by Bethe in 1929 (Ann. Phys. 1929, 3, 135) and remains to this date one of the simplest yet most effective theories to explain the structure and bonding of transition-metal coordination complexes. The key features of CFT are described today in most general and inorganic chemistry textbooks, a tribute to Bethe's ingenuity and vision.

Daniel Rabinovich
Charlotte, N.C.

Open access in chemistry

It seems that everyone these days yearns for "open access" to the chemical literature, and C&EN reported that the newly announced Beilstein Journal of Organic Chemistry claims to be the "first major open-access journal" in its field (March 21, page 13). While applauding these efforts, I submit that the open-access forerunner in organic chemistry is Organic Syntheses.

With a mission to provide checked synthetic procedures, Organic Syntheses prides itself on publishing the most reliable experimental information in the field. After more than 60 years of traditional publishing, Organic Syntheses began to offer softback copies of its annual volumes free to members of the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry in 1984. That giveaway continues today, with about 20,000 copies going to Organic Division members of ACS and societies in Germany, Poland, Japan, and Britain. So the beginnings of open access in organic chemistry predate the Internet. Organic Syntheses joined the Web in 2001 ( Since then, every page has been available to everyone, everywhere, all of the time, for free. That's open access.

How can they give it all away? Organic Syntheses Inc. is a nonprofit corporation that accumulated money through sales of annual and collective volumes, primarily to libraries. Through wise management and investment, the corporation's war chest grew to the point where the board of directors began to turn the traditional model on its ear and give the publication back to its authors and readers. That seems only fitting, since they paid for it in the first place. In essence, the revenues of yesterday help bankroll the operations of today.

Is there a realistic "business model" for open-access publications? The community should give variants of the Organic Syntheses model serious consideration. Once you accumulate a big enough stash of cash, you can run your publication at least in part on earnings. In effect, it's an "endowed publication" model. The question then becomes how to accumulate enough cash. Organic Syntheses has already shown one way. Surely there are others.

Dennis P. Curran, coeditor, Organic Syntheses



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