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Ethidium Bromide
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Ethidium Bromide


Ethidium bromide (EtBr), 3,8-diamino-5-ethyl-6-phenylphenanthridinium bromide, is commonly used as a non-radioactive marker for identifying and visualizing nucleic acid bands in electrophoresis and other methods of gel-based nucleic acid separation. EtBr is a dark red crystalline that readily fluoresces reddish-brown when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. EtBr is a potent mutagen and toxic after an acute exposure. It is an irritant to the skin, eyes, mouth, and upper respiratory tract. Direct contact with EtBr should be avoided.

Handling Procedures  

The best practice for handling EtBr, as with handling any chemical, is to consult the MSDS prior to usage. Pure EtBr should always be handled in a chemical fume hood. A laboratory that uses EtBr can easily become contaminated if appropriate precautions are not taken. The following best management practices are recommended for all EtBr laboratories:

  • Designate an area where EtBr work is going to occur and only handle it in this area (i.e. chemical fume hood, bench top). The area within a laboratory where EtBr is used should be limited.
  • It is recommended that the surfaces of the designated area be covered with an appropriate liner (i.e. plastic, chemical resistant liner). If the liner becomes contaminated, it can simply be replaced and disposed of as EtBr contaminated debris.
  • If a liner cannot be used, then the surfaces of the work area should be decontaminated routinely (refer to decontamination procedures below).
  • Good industrial hygiene should be practiced at all times. All spills or evidence of contamination should be cleaned immediately using the decontamination procedures below.

Personal Protective Equipment

Ensure all personal protective equipment (PPE) is in good condition and worn at all times when using EtBr. At a minimum, PPE should include a lab coat, closed-toe shoes, chemically-resistant gloves, and chemical safety goggles. Latex gloves give very little protection against EtBr! Nitrile gloves are an effective short-term barrier. Upon removal of the gloves, wash hands thoroughly. If using EtBr for extended periods, double-gloving gives better protection. Remember to change outer gloves frequently to minimize contamination.

For accidental exposures to:

  • Eyes - immediately flush with water  for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical attention.
  • Skin - immediately wash the area with soap and water. Seek medical attention.
  • Clothing - remove immediately and place in a sealed plastic bag or container. Seek medical attention.

Waste Disposal Procedures

EtBr waste must be collected and managed as hazardous waste, not biological waste. Items that have come into contact with EtBr such as PPE, absorbent materials, liners or other debris must also be collected as hazardous waste. All EtBr waste, including debris, should be placed in an appropriate container and labeled accordingly. For agarose gels containing EtBr, a plastic bucket with a tight fitting lid is preferred. All EtBr waste containers must be suitable for transportation and must not be leaking. For removal of EtBr waste from your laboratory, submit a Hazardous Materials Pickup Request Form .  

Decontamination Procedures

Decontamination should be performed using the following solution:

  • 4.2 grams of sodium nitrite (NaNO2)
  • 20 milliliters of 50% hypophosphorous acid solution (H3PO2)
  • 300 milliliters of water

To perform decontamination:

  • Soak a paper towel in the decontamination solution and thoroughly wash the contaminated area.
  • Once the contaminated area has been thoroughly washed with the decontamination solution, rinse the area 5 times with tap water using a clean paper towel for each rinse.
  • Soak all spent paper towels in the decontamination solution for one hour. Gently wring out excess solution and dispose of as hazardous waste with contaminated gloves, pipette tips or any other solid EtBr debris.
  • Using a UV light, check to ensure all EtBr has been removed.
  • The decontamination solution should be collected in an appropriate container and labeled as hazardous waste (i.e. Water 95%, Hypophosphorus Acid 3%, Sodium Nitrite 1%, Ethidium Bromide 1%).
  • Include both the debris and the waste decontamination solution on a Hazardous Materials Pickup Request Form .

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Last Modified: Wednesday, June 27, 2007
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