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2007 MARCH–APRIL; 355
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April 19, 2007 [posted]

Skill Kit: Basic Searching of the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB®)

the National Library of Medicine® Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Program (TEHIP) has been developing resources to assist health professionals and scientists in their work for nearly 40 years. One of the TEHIP major resources is TOXNET®, a collection of databases on toxicology, hazardous chemicals, environmental health, and toxic releases. TOXNET includes the Hazardous Substances Data Bank.

What is the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB)?

The Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) is one of the primary databases in the NLM TOXNET system. It provides comprehensive peer-reveiwed toxicological data on over 5,000 substances. HSDB contains excerpts from the published literature on human health effects and exposure, emergency medical treatment, standards and regulations, safety and handling procedures, and environmental fate. All data in HSDB are referenced and derived from a core set of books, government documents, technical reports, selected primary journal literature, and electronic sources including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists® (ACGIH). HSDB is peer-reviewed by a Scientific Review Panel (SRP), a committee of experts in the major subject areas in the database's scope.

Quick Tour

An eight-minute animated tutorial demonstrating the features of this article is available. In addition to basic searching instruction covered in this article, you'll find useful techniques and tips.

Who uses HSDB and why?

Due to its technical nature, HSDB is most often used by health professionals, industrial hygienists, health information professionals, toxicologists, and chemists. The information in HSDB helps to improve understanding of research findings for health care workers and emergency responders, to assist family/friends who have health concerns, and to support the work of researchers in toxicology.

Searching HSDB

Search Example:

Search Tips:

HSDB Record

HSDB records are organized into three sections (see Figure 2):

Relevancy Ranking

Relevancy ranking attempts to determine which records are most pertinent to the search, and to place the most relevant documents first in the list of returned records. The ranking is based upon the number of individual search terms occurring in a record, the number of times each search term occurs in a record, a term's rarity within the database, and the nearness of search terms to each other. Records containing combinations of search words tend to be ranked higher than records having isolated occurrences of the words.


The Basic Searching of the Hazardous Substances Data Bank quick tour is an eight-minute demonstration of this information plus more search examples. The HSDB Help Section answers the most common questions you may have when you first start searching. The TOXNET FAQ also answers frequently asked questions, such as how to cite an HSDB record. If you need further assistance, email or call (301) 496-1131.

Basic Searching of the Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB®). NLM Tech Bull. 2007 Mar-Apr;(355):e12.

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