Removal of Ethidium Bromide from Skin

skorycd at skorycd at
Mon Apr 20 13:45:51 EST 1998

I would like to propose a suggestion for removing ethidium bromide that has
accidentally come in contact with skin.  A coworker recently spilled ethidium
bromide (10 mg/ml in water) on her arm.  Immediate scrubbing with soap and
water was useless in removing the dye, as indicated by 360 nm U.V. light.
Searching the various news servers, literature, and MSDS's revealed a lack of
agreement regarding handling accidental skin contact.  The only suggestions
that I could find were a few posts that suggested washing with various
solvents, such as acetone or ethanol. We opted to try something different
because of the possibility that the solvents may carry the ethidium bromide
deeper into the skin.

Lightly scrubbing the contaminated area of the skin with an abrasive soap
(Borax hand cleaner was used), completely removed all visible fluorescence.  A
control of mixing borax and ethidium bromide demonstrated that the ethidium
bromide was not just being converted into a non-fluorescing compound.  This
suggests that ethidium bromide, in water, does not penetrate very deeply into
the skin and that removing the outer dead keratinous layer will serve to
decontaminate the skin.

This post is not meant to rekindle any discussions regarding the safety of
ethidium-Br.  Also, it is not meant to start more debates on how to make
solutions of the dye come up negative on the Ames test.  Consider this a
proposal to establish protocols for removing either a potential mutagen or
just a pesky fluorescing compound.  Either way, I do find it interesting that
the ethidium bromide did not appear to have penetrated very deeply.  Any
comments would be appreciated.

Christopher D. Skory, Ph.D.
Fermentation Biochemistry Research
National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research
United States Dept. of Agriculture, ARS
Peoria, IL         USA

skorycd at

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