When reading an MSDS or product label, you've probably come across words that seem familiar. Beware: They may not mean what you think they do.

The federal Hazardous Communication Standard defines certain terms. Manufacturers must follow those definitions when creating an MSDS or product label. Let's start with two:

  • Absorption. This is almost clear. Obviously, it has to do with absorbing. But when used for an MSDS or product label, it has nothing to do with what kind of paper towel you use to mop up a mess. It pertains to how your skin absorbs a toxin (and subsequently passes the toxin into your bloodstream).
  • Asphyxiant. Another word that's almost clear. It could have any of several meanings related to suffocation. But it doesn't have to cut off your oxygen supply to be classified as an asphyxiant. Anything that prevents you from getting enough oxygen qualifies.