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Chemical Safety Resources: Chemical Reactivity and Hazards

Key resources in chemical safety and industrial hygiene recommended by EHRS and the Penn Chemistry Library.

Bretherick's Handbook of Reactive Chemical Hazards

  • Volume 1 helps you to locate stability of a single compound
  • Volume 2 allows you to locate data on potentially dangerous reactions between compounds

Inorganic Syntheses

Inorganic Syntheses is to inorganic chemistry what Organic Syntheses is to organic chemistry.  Each procedure must be checked in at least one additional laboratory as a part of the review process.

Each volume of Inorganic Syntheses contains a note about "Toxic Substances and Laboratory Hazards" (1).  While exhorting chemists to take care while working in the laboratory in general, the editors state, "The obvious hazards in the syntheses reported in this volume are delineated, where appropriate, in the experimental procedure" (1).  The following is an example of one of these caution statements:

Caution.  The following acidification and extraction procedure should be performed in a ventilated hood, while wearing appropriate safety clothing including splash goggles.  Sulfuric acid is extremely corrosive, and during the ether extraction, due to possible excessive pressure generation, there is a danger of splashing the sulfuric acid.  Careful, frequent ventilation of the separatory funnel must be applied (2).

Some of the cautions are not nearly this detailed, but they at least serve the purpose of indicating that a potential hazard is present.

Inorganic Syntheses volumes dated 1939 to 2016 are available in the Chemistry Library Book Room at call number QD 151.A1 I5, and can be checked out.  Beginning in 2017, the new volumes will be available in electronic format, and a link to the e-books will be added.



(1) Coucouvanis, D. Ed.  Inorganic Syntheses, v. 33. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002.

(2) Cowan, J.j.; Hill, C. L.; Reiner, R. S.; Weinstock, I. A.  "Dodecatungstonaluminic acid and its monolacunary and mixed-addendum derivatives." In Inorganic Syntheses, v. 33, Coucouvanis, D. Ed.  New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2002.

Science of Synthesis

Science of Synthesis is a subset of Houben-Weyls Methoden der Organischen Chemie, a review source that presents different methods of synthesizing classes of substance.  It is organized by class of substance, and, within a product class or subclass, it is organized according to the methods of making that class or subclass.

Science of Synthesis is written in English, and the reviews compare different published methods of performing each type of synthesis, occasionally reproducing or describing exact preparations of the various substance classes.  The chapter authors are careful to highlight safety risks and include appropriate precautions.  These warnings can take a number of different forms.  This is the most overt indication of risks associated with a particular substance or reaction and methods of mitigating those risks.

A screenshot image of a caution text for a procedure. The text reads "Caution: Osmium tetroxide is an inhalation hazard and can cause temporary blindness. Handle with extreme caution! The following procedure should only be performed in a well-ventilated hood and with full protection (goggles, gloves, etc.)".

Reproduced from Gonzalez, J.; Harman, W. D.Science of Synthesis, (20011973.

In other cases, the risks are presented in a more subtle fashion.  This example is within the text of a preparation.

A screenshot image of an example of the word "CAUTION" integrated into informational text about the "Gilman Test" general procedure.

Reproduced from Heaney, H.; Christie, S.Science of Synthesis, (2004) 3, 305.

Still other warnings appear in the general introductions to the chapters.

A screenshot image of the word "caution" integrated into the general introduction of a chapter.

Reproduced from Thomas, E. J.Science of Synthesis, (200110, 1.

It is recommended that, when using Science of Synthesis to compare methods, one should read the text carefully to become aware of the inherent hazards of each method; however, this should not be considered an exhaustive source of hazards, and additional information should be sought.

Organic Syntheses

Organic Syntheses is collection of procedures for synthesizing organic molecules.  It is unique in that the reviewers of each paper have actually tested the procedures in their own laboratories, so, each procedure has been found to work for at least two sets of researchers.

Organic Syntheses includes some standard text about health risks and hazards in each article.  In this section, they state, "In some articles in Organic Syntheses, chemical-specific hazards are highlighted in red "Caution Notes" within a procedure. It is important to recognize that the absence of a caution note does not imply that no significant hazards are associated with the chemicals involved in that procedure" (Org. Synth. 2016, 93, 228-244).  The hazard text appears as follows in the pdf of the document, and it is boxed in red in the rich html version.  Here is an example from one of the Org. Synth. pdf files:

An example screenshot image of a caution hazard text. The text reads, "Caution! Sodium hydride liberates hydrogen gas, which presents a fire risk. Care should be taken during handling and the chemical should be quenched with caution".

Reproduced from Org. Synth. 2016, 93, 228-244.

Organic Syntheses procedures tend to be quite detailed, and, in 2015, authors began including photographs of apparatus used in the syntheses, so, one can more easily see the proper set-up of the experiment.

Organic Syntheses volumes are available in the Chemistry Library Book Room at the call number QD262.O7 and may be checked out.  They are available online at

Images on this page are reproduced from the digital editions of Organic Syntheses (, published by Organic Syntheses, Inc., and Science of Synthesis (, produced by Thieme, copyright 2016.  The reference for the original article from which each screen shot comes appears below each image.

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