The Chemical Safety Library under development by Pistoia could have legal implications for those who don’t learn from near misses

A project to share previously inaccessible information on hazardous chemical reactions, proved to be a lightning rod at the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) annual conference in San Francisco following its launch last month by the non-profit Pistolia Alliance.

Carmen Nitsche, a business development consultant for Pistoia, discussed the Chemical Safety Library (CSL) initiative before a packed session of the ACS meeting on 4 April. ‘We realised there are a lot of resources to provide information about reagents and substances, but when it comes to “I mixed this with that and a bad reaction happened,” there really is nothing out there,’ she said.

Within 36 hours of announcing CSL in mid-March, 300 accounts for the database had been requested, and the input system hadn’t even been automated. Prior to the ACS meeting, 500 accounts had been requested, and the figure had jumped to 625 by the morning of 4 April.

But Nitsche also pointed out there is a big difference between interest and participation. ‘We need to now validate that the community is ready to share,’ she said, noting that so far there have only been two entries of new chemical reaction incidents in the database. Including the incidents with which Pistoia pre-populated CLS, the system now contains 29 reaction incidents.

Nitsche said the database represents ‘an ideal opportunity for cross-industry collaboration,’ but not everyone agreed. Hannah Corcoran, the R&D facility lead at Emerald Kalama Chemical, said her company is concerned that its chemical reactions are trade secrets, and such proprietary information requires protection, not publicity through a database.

There also could be legal implications if lab researchers don’t learn from near misses that would be documented in CSL. Currently, submitters to the database must provide their name and their company’s or institution’s name. Nitsche said Pistoia is in the process of masking the names of individuals who enter data into CLS, but she noted that it is important to know where these incident reports come from to ensure their legitimacy.

Neil Langerman, a safety consultant and founder of Advanced Chemical Safety in San Diego, California, issued a dire warning to Nitsche. ‘If you don’t suppress this personal data completely, I will get it on a subpoena – it is that simple,’ he said.