The Chemical Educator, Vol. 5, No. 2, S1430-4171(00)01376-5, 10.1007/s00897990376a, © 2000 Springer-Verlag NewYork, Inc.
DOSE. The Dictionary of Substances and Their Effects, 2nd edition. Edited by Sharat Gangolli. The Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, 1999. Seven volumes with access to online electronic chemical safety database. £1295 (set of hardcopy volumes plus site-wide license to electronic database). ISBN 0-85404-803-0.
Reviewed by: Hugh Cartwright, University of Oxford, Hugh.Cartwright@chem.ox.ac.uk
The Dictionary of Substances and Their Effects (DOSE) is a comprehensive compilation of health and safety data on over 4000 chemicals. In the safety field, which is becoming increasingly cluttered with books offering such data, this work is one of the best. It is comprehensive, authoritative, published by the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK, and is excellent value for the money. DOSE consists of both hardcopy and an electronic database accessible through the Internet. The current version of the electronic database suffers from one serious drawback, discussed below, but this is otherwise an excellent product.
The hardcopy portion of DOSE consists of seven chunky hardback books, each nearly one thousand pages. The electronic database contains the same data, and Internet access to it can be gained via a username and password. Alternatively, if site-wide access is required, this can be provided to all users in a specified IP domain. The obvious primary advantage of the electronic version is that it offers a way for users who do not have ready access to the book to find safety data.
At first sight the package might appear expensive. After all, who wants to spend a couple of thousand dollars on books? In the safety field, though, even slim texts amounting to little other than a gentle rephrasing of government regulations often cost hundreds of dollars.
Furthermore, the headline price is misleading. A single purchase of DOSE gives a potentially very large number of users access to the electronic database. The "site" to which access is granted is apparently interpreted by the publishers as all buildings belonging to a particular organization within a radius of several miles. Most universities would thus be covered completely by a single purchase of DOSE. In view of the quality of information in the database, and number of compounds it contains, this represents extremely good value.
The database contains roughly 4100 chemicals, and the electronic version may be searched using various criteria. Searches would most likely be by chemical name, molecular formula, or CAS number, but it is possible also to use the EINECS number, RTECS number, UN number, molecular formula, or molecular weight. In addition, free-text search employing wildcards and Boolean terms is available. Searching is rapid and seems reliable. As Departmental Safety Officer I found the depth of information very welcome.
In hardcopy form the entry for each chemical is typically 12 pages of close-spaced type. However, far more space is devoted to those chemicals that present serious health risks. An example of a chemical record (for benzene) is available at http://www.rsc.org/is/database/doseexs.htm
The electronic database is potentially extremely useful; however it has one major drawbackand it is a crucial one. When one logs into the database, the first document downloaded is the front page in which one can fill in the relevant search terms or scan the various lists which it contains. Within this document is the entire list of chemicals, CAS numbers, EINECS numbers, RTECS number, and UN numbers in the database.
In all, this one page amounts to some 1068 kB of data which, even with a fast Internet link, takes some time to download. Once the document has been retrieved there is a further pause (24 seconds on my slow Pentium PC) during which the document is presumably being formatted before it can be displayed. This delay is frustrating enough in the UK, where links from universities into the RSC are reasonably fast, but would make use of the database from countries outside the UK very irritating.
But there is worse to come. When one has done a search, collected the data one wants, and returned to the search page to look up another chemical, the whole home page loads again. Even if this reload takes advantage of a local cache, the process requires considerable time. This is a crippling problem for an otherwise an excellent product, but could be avoided if the home page loaded with only a minimal amount of information. If the user then wished to search by chemical name, or by CAS number, or EINECS number the single list required could be downloaded. If the database is to be widely used, especially by those outside the UK, the RSC must modify the interface so that downloading takes a few seconds, not as long as a minute.
Happily, I can report that the problem is being dealt with. After I contacted the publishers, they responded that, having realized that speed of access is crucial, they are working to provide a suitable fix.
This is one of the best databases available of safety information on chemicals; it deserves to be widely used. Indeed, I have proposed that my own University Safety Office buy it. To compete with other databases on the Internet, the RSC needs now to resolve the problem of download time. Once they have done this, I expect DOSE to become a standard in the field of safety.