Ethidium bromide spill concerns - (Apr/16/2014 )
I was working in the lab earlier today and I accidentally spilled ethidium bromide stock solution (10mg/ml) on my lab bench. A pretty significant amount. I used paper towels to wipe down the bench, as well as water and ethanol afterwards.
However, knowing the mutagenic and potentially carcinogenic nature of ethidium bromide, I have been freaking out about the incident, and how I may have potentially inhaled some of the ethidium bromide (considering I spilled so much). I didn't make any direct skin contact with the solution, but I definitely got a good deal of liquid on my gloves.
How worried should I be about any health issues that may have been incurred by the spill? When people say that it is dangerous to inhale ethidium bromide, does that apply to liquids as well (not just the powders)? What symptoms would I expect to see if any health problems arise?
If you microwave your agarose with EtBr in it already, you will be inhaling much more of the EtBr than you would get from a spill...
Depending on the type of gloves (nitrile and vinyl are impermeable, latex are permeable), EtBr will penetrate rapidly and reach your skin within seconds of touching it. However, considering that people have been using this in the lab for more than 50 years and there have never (to my knowledge) been any correlations with cancers and EtBr exposure - you should be fine. Consider also that EtBr is used as an empirical treatment and prophylactic for Nagana (sleeping sickness in cattle and other trypanosomes) in Africa (see here) at a dose of about 1 mg/kg, with no observed side effects in the cattle, or in the population that consumes both the meat and milk from the beasts.... you should be fine
Long story short: Don't freak out!
Bleach is very effective to destroy EtBr. If you are worried, check the potential residues with UV light and bleach the surfaces for a while. Check with UV again until no fluorescence is detectable.
You can check this document too
or search by: decontamination ethidium bromide
this discussion has gone on several times and in several places. you might want to look at this post (and others) for some information on ethidium bromide mutagenicity and toxicity.
Thank you very much for the replies so far. Very helpful. I guess the reason I'm stressing so much about this is the mere fact that I spilled so much. I keep seeing people on the Internet show concerns about potential health hazards of very very dilute concentrations of EtBr solution...meanwhile I knocked over the stock bottle itself onto my lab bench and got at least several milliliters of the stuff on it. I wouldn't be this worried if I only spilled 5 ul (which is what I usually use to make my gel).