ToxicDocs allows users to retrieve millions of pages from internal corporate and trade group documents on chemical toxicity

A new searchable database offers free online access to millions of pages of chemical toxicity documents, including internal corporate and trade association materials relating to new products and chemicals on the market. Dubbed ToxicDocs, the new resource is a project of Columbia University in New York City and the City University of New York (CUNY).

The database launched earlier this month with an initial 20 million pages of material focused on asbestos, benzene, lead, polychlorinated biphenyls, polyvinyl chloride and silica. Most of the documents were uncovered during discovery in litigation over toxic chemicals, and have been kept secret. However, technology has now enabled this material to be converted into machine-readable, searchable text.

‘The purpose of the site is to take advantage of new technology that enables us to digitise and render fully text-searchable massive amounts of material,’ explains Merlin Chowkwanyun, a Columbia professor who helped spearhead the project. He says the idea for the site has been around awhile, but the technology wasn’t ready until recently.

‘We are hoping that people will take the opportunity to provide us with more documents – we see this as an opportunity to have as much material as possible available to the public,’ states CUNY historian Gerald Markowitz, another collaborator on ToxicDocs. It should be valuable for researchers, graduate students, journalists and anyone interested in toxic substances and corporate behaviour, he says.