Interpreting Toxicity Values found in MSDSs

Material Safety Data Sheets commonly include toxicity data in the form of LD50 values. The LD50 (Lethal Dose, 50%) value is typically expressed in mg of material per kg of subject-body-weight, and indicates the quantity of material that, if administered to a population of subjects, will cause 50% of the subjects to perish. The subject animal and the route by which the material was administered should be specified (eg. oral, rat) in order for the LD50 value to be meaningful. That's all well and good, but how do you attach significance to the LD50 numbers that you might find?

Collected here are LD50 values and pointers to MSDSs for a variety of materials. Included are familiar materials ranging from low to moderate toxicity, and a couple of exotic, extremely toxic materials. Remember that a large LD50 means it takes a large quantity of the material to cause a toxic response. Small LD50 values are trouble! These LD50 values (and the associated MSDS sheets) should help you put other LD50 values you encounter into context.

Material LD50 (mg/kg) subject, route Pointer to MSDS
sucrose
(cane sugar)
29700 rat, oral MSDS
sodium bicarbonate
(baking soda)
4220 rat, oral MSDS
sodium chloride
(table salt)
3000 rat, oral MSDS
ethanol
(grain alcohol)
2080 rat, oral MSDS
caffeine 192 rat, oral MSDS
sodium cyanide 6.4 rat, oral MSDS
sarin
(nerve agent)
24 human, percutaneous (skin contact) MSDS
VX
(nerve agent)
0.14 human, percutaneous (skin contact) MSDS
      Material       LD50 (mg/kg)    subject, route    Pointer to MSDS
      --------       ------------    --------------    ---------------
      sucrose           29700           rat, oral          MSDS
    (cane sugar)

  sodium bicarbonate     4220           rat, oral          MSDS
    (baking soda)

   sodium chloride       3000           rat, oral          MSDS
     (table salt)

      ethanol            2080           rat, oral          MSDS
  (grain alcohol)

      caffeine            192           rat, oral          MSDS

    sodium cyanide        6.4           rat, oral          MSDS

        sarin              24           human,             MSDS
    (nerve agent)                       percutaneous
                                        (skin contact)

         VX               0.14          human,             MSDS
    (nerve agent)                       percutaneous
                                        (skin contact)