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Household Products Database

May 29, 2007

On the heels of my recent article, “Disposing of Household Hazardous Waste,” I’ll share with you a related database I recently discovered. The Household Products Database, at http://householdproducts.nlm.nih.gov/index.htm, contains a wealth of health and safety information about the chemicals under your sink and in your garage. This free database was created by the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine Special Information Services. One of the nine categories featured among auto products and home maintenance is pesticides.

Of course, the best source of information about a pesticide is the product label. However, further health and safety information can be found on the product’s MSDS, the Material Safety Data Sheets, which are available by request from the manufacturer. This database combines information from both of these resources and puts it into a searchable format. Manufacturers are always changing formulations, and as a result labels do change. This database is updated at least twice a year. With so many products available, not everything is included in the database. However, there are more than 7,000 brands included, which is impressive. According to the site’s FAQ page, “Products included in the database are selected by market share and shelf presence in retail stores.” The bulk of the pesticides included are products for homeowners, but some are professional use.

Ever wonder what the chronic health effects are from applying a certain garden weed preventer or what preexisting medical conditions may be aggravated by handling or applying the product? You can learn this information and much more using the database. It is worth mentioning that the LD50’s that are given on the MSDS and the signal words that are stated on the label are not listed in the database. Instead, they use what they call an HMIS Health Rating which is “based on the toxicity of chemicals contained in a specific brand and its ability to cause skin and eye irritation”. The scale focuses on acute exposures: 0 = minimal; 1 = slight; 2 = moderate; 3 = serious; 4 = severe; N = no information provided by manufacturer. The addition of an asterisk (*) after the number indicates that exposure to chemicals in the specific brand could also pose a chronic hazard (such as emphysema or kidney damage).

Another interesting feature of the database is that one can search by health effects. For example, suppose that you were exposed to a pesticide application your neighbor just made and now your head hurts. You could search the database for “headache.” Unfortunately, the numerous results may not help your headache, as 62 records were found when I did the search. Learning about a mystery rash may be a little easier. There were only 12 products that popped up when I typed in the term “rash.” But you get the idea. It would be best to simply ask your neighbor what pesticide he applied, and then you can research the product.