HSDB Quick Tour

Welcome to the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) tutorial. This tour allows you to follow along in the live HSDB website in the right-side frame, while following directions in this left-side panel.

Completing this module earns 1.5 hours MLA CE credits.

Use the arrows below to navigate through the tour. You can also navigate from the "Contents" button above, or print the tour content using the print button.

If you'd like to go to a previous section of the tutorial, use the arrows below. Using your browser's back button may cause you to exit the tutorial.

Click the Next arrow below to continue.

What does this tutorial cover?

This tutorial will cover:

  • What is HSDB?
  • Why does HSDB exist?
  • What is the focus of HSDB?
  • How does a chemical get into HSDB?
  • 6 things to know 
  • 4 ways to search 
  • 3 tips for browsing

What is HSDB?

HSDB is a toxicology database that focuses on the toxicology of potentially hazardous chemicals. Read more under About HSDB.
What does the acronym HSDB stand for?

Why does HSDB Exist?

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HSDB was established over forty years ago at the National Library of Medicine to assist the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in collecting, documenting and making available online information about the chemical substances found at National Priority Listing sites (NPL) throughout the United States.

NPL sites are part of the EPA’s Superfund program (a.k.a. the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act or CERCLA) which is responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land, and for responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters.

Click here to learn more about NPL sites

Why does HSDB Exist?

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Chemicals found at NPL sites include pollutants such as:

  • Heavy metals (ex. mercury and lead)
  • Biocides (a chemical substance or microorganism intended to destroy any harmful organism by chemical or biological means)
  • Herbicides
  • Insecticides
  • Radionuclides (an atom that has excess nuclear energy, making it unstable)
  • Solvents
  • Gases
  • Complex mixtures
  • Pharmaceutical preparations
In recent years, HSDB has grown to include nanomaterials used in consumer products like clothing, electronics and medical instruments (e.g.: silver nanoparticles, iron nanoparticles, zinc oxide nanoparticles). It also includes some North American venomous animals such as cottonmouth snakes, recluse spiders and black scorpions. 

Click here to return to HSDB

What is the focus of HSDB?

HSDB focuses on the effects of potentially hazardous chemicals.

HSDB records include over 150 data elements, including:

  • Human Health Effects
  • Emergency Medical Treatment
  • Animal, Human and Ecotoxicity Excerpts
  • Metabolism/Pharmacokinetics
  • Pharmacology
  • Environmental Fate/Exposure
  • Environmental Standards & Regulations
  • Chemical and Physical Properties
  • Manufacturing/Use Information
  • Laboratory Methods (analytical and clinical determinations) 
  • Synonyms and Formulations
  • Safety Procedures

Inclusion of data varies by chemical record.

TRY THIS: Find the Sample Record on the HSDB homepage.

What chemical is used as the example in the Sample Record?

Notice how the sample record includes references and links in green beneath the entry. All information you see in a HSDB chemical record is extracted from books, government documents, technical reports, selected primary journal literature, and other sources of online information by a team of reviewers.

Additional Resource:  "The National Library of Medicine’s (NLM) Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB): Background, Recent Enhancements and Future Plans." Toxicology Journal (2014). (Opens in new window)

How does a chemical get into HSDB?

An internal chemical selection team at the National Library of Medicine evaluates and selects chemicals, drugs, dietary supplements, venoms, heavy metals, and other compounds for the database.

Chemical candidates are nominated by NLM staff, the public, advisory groups, and scientific and regulatory agencies.

Chemicals that receive national and international attention in the news are also considered for inclusion in HSDB.

For example, when a chemical spill occurred in the Elk River in West Virginia on January 9, 2014, a new HSDB record was created for the chemical abbreviated as: MCHM.

TRY THIS: Search for MCHM in HSDB. Find and expand the Administrative Information section, then click on Update History.

On what date was the HSDB record for MCHM created?

6 Things to Know about HSDB

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1) HSDB contains 5,929 chemical records (as of 10/25/2017), each of which can have up to 150 fields of data. 

Click here to return to HSDB

6 Things to Know about HSDB

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2) HSDB covers human and animal toxicity, safety and substance handling, environmental exposure, and more.

6 Things to Know about HSDB

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3) HSDB is assessed by a Scientific Review Panel (SRP), a committee of sixteen experts who meet three or four times a year to review new and updated chemical records.

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6 Things to Know about HSDB

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4) Each HSDB record has a section called Environmental Standards & Regulations, which includes:

  • Regulations about reportable quantities in case of a chemical spill or accident
  • Permitted state and federal levels of a regulated substance in drinking water, such as lead or arsenic
TRY THIS: Search for benzene and expand the Environmental Standards & Regulations section. 
What is the CERCLA Reportable Quantity for Benzene?

Click here to return to HSDB

6 Things to Know about HSDB

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5) All information you see in a HSDB chemical record is distilled from, and attributed to, outside sources.

The HSDB review status tags are used to indicate  the level of review the source has undergone. There are 3 levels.


Records evaluated by the Scientific Review Panel (SRP) will display the PEER REVIEWED tag.

A citation that is peer reviewed


Records that have been excerpted from an original source will display the QC REVIEWED tag until they undergo a full peer review. QC stands for quality control.

A citation that is QC reviewed


A third designation, UNREVIEWED, signifies that the information has not been evaluated for scientific accuracy. This is used for a limited number of data statements, such as industry submissions, which do not readily lend themselves to scientific review.

A citation that is unreviewed


6 Things to Know about HSDB

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6) UNII Codes now appear in the results display. 

Screenshot of UNII Codes appearing in results.

UNIIs are unique ingredient identifiers generated by FDA and support health information technology efforts like identifying or searching for substances electronically across multiple databases and platforms. UNIIs are also listed in the Synonyms and Identifiers section. 

4 Ways to Search

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There are several different ways to enter your search terms in HSDB:

1. Chemical name

Example: sarin

4 Ways to Search

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2. Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry Number

Example: 107-44-8 (use the dashes when searching)

4 Ways to Search

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3. Phrase search using the Records With drop down menu.

Example: eye inflammation

"Records with" drop down menu

4 Ways to Search

4 of 84. Advanced Search to specify a search within one of the 150 HSDB fields.

Example: macaques in the field Animal Toxicity Studies

Advanced search fields

Search results are relevancy ranked

Click here to return to HSDB

4 Ways to Search

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Your Turn! 

1. Search by Chemical name - BPA

BPA maps to Bisphenol A. Which section of the HSDB record tells you that you have mapped to the correct substance?

4 Ways to Search

6 of 82. Search by Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Registry Number - 80-05-7

What is the primary record for this CAS Registry Number?

4 Ways to Search

7 of 83. Phrase Search - kidney failure

How many times does the phrase kidney failure appear in HSDB?

4 Ways to Search

8 of 84. Advanced Search - kidney failure in the field Human Toxicity Excerpts 
  • Choose the Advanced Search tab
  • Type the phrase kidney failure 
  • Click the plus sign to expand the section on Human Health Effects 
  • Check the box labeled Human Toxicity Excerpts
  • Click Search
Show me

How many records contain the phrase kidney failure in the field Human Toxicity Excerpts, searching singular and plural forms?

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3 Tips for Browsing HSDB

1) Using the Browse HSDB feature can help you identify terms available within the database.

2) When you start typing, a list of matching terms appears.

3) For each indexed term, the system displays the number of HSDB records containing that term.

Try browsing for a term on the next page.

Try This: Browse HSDB

1) Click on the Browse HSDB tab.

2) Start typing the term glyphosate and then answer the question below.

Using the Browse feature, how many HSDB records include the exact term glyphosate?

NOTE: If you choose to Browse using the Chemical Names option versus the Single Words option, HSDB will only look in the Title field of the record and not within the record. Give it a try and see the difference.

How many results did you get when searching for glyphosate with the Chemical Names option?



HSDB is a toxicology database that focuses on the toxicology of potentially hazardous chemicals. It provides information on human exposure, animal, human and ecotoxicity excerpts, industrial hygiene, emergency handling procedures, environmental fate, regulatory requirements, nanomaterials, and related areas. The information in HSDB has been assessed by a Scientific Review Panel and is periodically reviewed. 

You've reached the end of this tutorial. Now you can complete the Discovery Exercises.

Click here to return to the Discovering ToxNet class. Page opens in a new window. You may need to log in again.

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Developed resources reported in this site are supported by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), National Institutes of Health (NIH) under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012344 with the University of Utah Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIH..