Additional Information about Ethidium Bromide


Ethidium bromide is a potent mutagen that has been used for many years as a nucleic acid stain.  The material fluoresces a red-orange color under ultraviolet light, with increased fluorescence when the material is bound to double-stranded DNA.  Ethidium bromide is typically purchased in powder or solution form and is soluble in water.  The crystal or powder form is odorless and appears dark red in color.


The powder form is considered an irritant to the upper respiratory track, eyes and skin.  Ethidium bromide is strongly mutagenic, causing living cell mutations.  Even though there is no evidence at this time of human carcinogenicity or teratogenicity, this material should be considered a possible carcinogen or teratogen.


Wear a lab coat when working with ethidium bromide.  Leave lab coats in the lab when you’re work is complete to prevent the spread of this or other chemicals outside of the lab.  Lab coat, chemical splash goggles and nitrile gloves are required protection.


When an ultraviolet light source is used in your work with ethidium bromide, added caution is required.  As a general rule, avoid exposing unprotected skin and eyes to intense UV sources.  If the UV light is aimed upwards, wear a UV protective face shield when you are standing near the source.  For prolonged work close to UV light boxes or other intense sources, it may be useful to wrap the end of the lab coat sleeves loosely with masking tape to prevent gaps where the wrist could be exposed.  For low-intensity UV sources, the requirement for UV protection can be waived if the exposure to personnel has been measured and shown to be within permissible exposure levels.  Contact Radiation Safety at 543-0463 if you need measurements of the UV levels in your facility.


When working with ethidium bromide, try to minimize the potential for spills.  Where practical, purchase ready-made stock solutions from chemical manufacturers in lieu of mixing your own solutions. If you prefer to mix your own solutions of ethidium bromide, protect yourself by doing this process in a fume hood.  Perform all processes that generate ethidium bromide dusts or mists inside the fume hood to minimize inhalation exposures.  Prevent accidents by transporting small quantities of ethidium bromide in a secondary container instead of carrying large quantities.


Spills of ethidium bromide solutions should be absorbed and decontaminated with soap and water.  Avoid raising dust when cleaning up solid spills by mixing with water and then absorbing the solution.  All spill cleanup materials and absorbents should be bagged or placed in a sealed container with a hazardous waste label.  Complete an EH&S hazardous waste collection form to request pickup.  Labels and forms are available from EH&S by calling 685-2848.


Some facilities use a hand held UV lamp to check for residual ethidium bromide contamination following spill cleanup. A reddish-orange fluorescence can be detected under both "long" and "short" UV wavelengths.  Users of the hand held lamps should be aware that their ability to detect small spills is not guaranteed. The ease of detection depends


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