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In the know on...SDS for nano

Safety Data Sheets for nanomaterials


Safety Data Sheets (SDS) are a key tool for ensuring the safe use of chemical substances, allowing the communication of information on hazards and instructions for safe handling throughout the supply chain. SDS provide essential information to a diversity of professionals, including workers handling substances, employers managing such activities, producers, vendors, and importers, as well as insurance companies and authorities. The development of high quality SDS is therefore a fundamental element underpinning the safe and responsible development of nanomaterials. However, as uncertainties remain regarding the potential hazardous properties of nanomaterials and the adequacy of existing control measures, it is important that SDS for nanomaterials reflect as best as possible current knowledge in the field. Several groups have undertaken evaluations of SDS for nanomaterials with a view to assessing their accuracy and reliability, and to highlight possible knowledge gaps precluding their development.

Critical evaluations of SDS for nanomaterials...

Safe Work Australia (SWA), an Australian national policy-setting body, carried out an evaluation of the quality of SDS for a range of nanomaterials, including metals, metal oxides, silicates and carbon nanotubes (CNT) (SWA, 2010). SWA found that a large majority of the evaluated SDS (84%) presented information that was not sufficient to fulfil an appropriate risk assessment. Moreover, many of the SDS presented data for the bulk material, without any consideration of the validity of this information for the nano form of the substance in terms of toxicology, exposure limits and control measures.

Similarly, Lee et al. (2013) evaluated the accuracy and reliability of SDS for 97 nanomaterials belonging to the family of those tested by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Key observations included:

  • Insufficient or absent information regarding, for example, physico-chemical characteristics, route of exposure, toxicological profiles and protection measures;
  • Use of data for the bulk counterpart, such as occupational exposure limits (OEL), without further explanation on its validity for the nano-form;
  • Use of misleading information, such as a CAS number for another form of carbon (e.g. carbon black or graphite) on an SDS for carbon nanotubes;
  • Omission of information concerning the risk of dust explosion, particularly for aluminium oxide.

The authors emphasised that SDS should be prepared for all nanomaterials and mixtures containing nanomaterials using a precautionary approach, and suggested a list of critical physico-chemical characteristics that should be included in SDS for nanomaterials, including size and size distribution, aggregation and agglomeration state, morphology, crystal structure, surface area, dispersibility and dustiness. Bio-persistence was also highlighted as a key parameter for inclusion since it critically affects the (eco)toxicology of nanomaterials.

Members of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) also recently critically evaluated the contents of fifty SDS prepared between 2007 and 2011 and highlighted the same drawbacks (Eastlake et al., 2012). Similar observations to those of Lee et al. (2013) a were made and the authors concluded that even the most recent SDS for nanomaterials still contained insufficient data to fulfil their role.

Guidelines for the preparation of SDS…

The Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) published guidelines for the preparation of SDS for nanomaterials in 2010, which have recently been updated (SECO, 2012a). This guidance ranks in terms of priority the information considered to be 'necessary', 'important' and 'preferable' for inclusion in SDS for nanomaterials:

  • Necessary information includes data on substance identification, composition and hazard;
  • Important information includes fire fighting measures, handling and storage, exposure control, personal protection and disposal considerations;
  • Preferable information includes description of first aid measures, accidental release measures, stability and reactivity, toxicological information, ecological information, transport information, regulatory information and other information.

Guidance is provided on how to adapt classical SDS to nanomaterials, in terms of the data to be included, and also on how to source relevant information. SECO have provided examples of the application of these guidelines to the preparation of SDS for two synthetic nanomaterials: NANO-BLOGGO (a surface finisher) and SECOKAT (a photo catalyst in wall colours) (SECO, 2012b).

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has recently published a technical report regarding the preparation of material safety data sheets for nanomaterials (ISO, 2012), aimed at promoting uniformity and best practice in the communication of safety information for nanomaterials and nano-containing products. Key recommendations for the preparation of SDS include:

  • Date marking of SDS due to the rapid expansion of data available;
  • Clear statement that a material is in the nano-form, particularly when the same CAS number as the bulk form is used;
  • Declarations of where toxicological and eco-toxicological information is not available;
  • A statement of whether available exposure limits are for the bulk or nano-form of the material or, in the absence of an exposure limit, application of the precautionary principle.

In summary...

Several reports have evaluated the contents of SDS for nanomaterials. Many inadequacies in the information included in SDS to date have been highlighted, including the use of misleading information, which has impacted on their overall quality. Guidelines are now available to help overcome pitfalls in the preparation of SDS for nanomaterials and nano-containing products and better support the appropriate communication of risk information throughout the supply chain. SAFENANO Scientific Services is well placed to assist with the preparation or review of SDS for nanomaterials. For further information, please contact Dr. Steve Hankin.



Eastlake, A., Hodson, L., Geraci, C., and Crawford, C. 2012. A critical evaluation of material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for engineered nanomaterials. Journal of Chemical Health and Safety, 19(5), pp.1–8.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO). 2012. Nanomaterials -- Preparation of material safety data sheet (MSDS). ISO/TR 13329:2012. Geneva: ISO. 

Lee, J.H., Kuk, W.K., Kwon, M., Lee, J.H., Lee, K.S. and Yu, I.J. 2013. Evaluation of information in nanomaterial safety data sheets and development of international standard for guidance on preparation of nanomaterial safety data sheets. Nanotoxicology, 7(3), p.338.  

Safe Work Australia (SWA). 2010. An Evaluation of MSDS and Labels associated with the use of Engineered Nanomaterials. Commonwealth of Australia.

State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Chemicals and Occupational Health (SECO). 2012a. Safety data sheet (SDS): Guidelines for synthetic nanomaterials. Zurich: SECO. 

State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, Chemicals and Occupational Health (SECO). 2012b. Two examples for the guidelines: Safety data sheet (SDS) for synthetic nanomaterials. Zurich: SECO.

Did you know?

4 µm is the median aerodynamic diameter of particles that fall within the respirable size range.