Finding toxicological information

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Finding toxicological information: An approach for occupational health professionals

It can be difficult for occupational health professionals to assess which toxicological databases available on the Internet are the most useful for answering their questions. Therefore we evaluated toxicological databases for theirability to answer practical questions about exposure and prevention. We also propose recommended practices for searching for toxicological properties of chemicals.
We used a systematic search to find databases available on the Internet. Our criteria for the databases were the following: has a search engine, includes factual information on toxic and hazardous chemicals harmful for human health,and is free of charge. We developed both a qualitative and a quantitative rating method, which was used by four independent assessors to determine appropriateness, the quality of content, and ease of use of the database. Final ratings were based on a consensus of at least two evaluators.
Out of 822 results we found 21 databases that met our inclusion criteria. Out of these 21 databases14 are administered in the US, five in Europe, one in Australia, and one in Canada. Nine are administered by a governmental organization. No database achieved the maximum score of 27. The databases GESTIS, ESIS, Hazardous Substances Data Bank, TOXNET and NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards all scored more than 20 points. The following approach was developed for occupational health professionalssearching for the toxicological properties of chemicals: start with the identity of the chemical; then search for health hazards, exposure route and measurement; next the limit values; and finally look for the preventive measures.
A rating system of toxicological databases to assess their value for occupational health professionals discriminated well between databases in terms oftheir appropriateness, quality of information, and ease of use. Several American and European databases yielded high scores and provide a valuable source for occupational health professionals.
Workers are exposed to toxic chemicals in many jobs. For the worker, exposure may constitute a risk, for occupational health professionals (OHPs)a need to respond. In case of exposure, OHPs must find out if the chemicals used in the workplace cause hazard(s), risk(s), symptom(s), and/or diseases. To prevent exposures they need to know the properties of the chemicals used and the relationship between dose or level of exposure to the substance and the severity of the effect.
To answer such questions, an increasing number of databases arecurrently available on the Internet. However, it is not easy to find databases to cater for the needs of occupational health practitioners because the practical viewpoint is often missing. Articles written about toxicological databases address researchers, unspecified users, health care professionals in general, or persons that require information for a specific purpose. These articles of thedatabases may begin with a very specific point of view, such as developmental toxicity, or only describe the features of sources [1-4]. Judging whether the sources and information presented are applicable and credible presents a challenge. Rating systems used to assess the validity of contents often lack a satisfactory degree of reliability and validity [5-9].
Several authors have written aboutbarriers in finding and using information. Schaafsma, Bennett and others emphasize that professionals must learn which search engines and sites can be trusted [10-13]. The number of chemical substances and mixtures is myriad, and what is written about their health effects varies and seems largely dependent on the producers of the information. Judging whether the information is applicable and credible...
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