Removal of Ethidium Bromide from Skin

Ed Frank operon at
Wed Apr 22 23:38:40 EST 1998

As long as we're on the subject, I would like to add that in a preliminary edition
of their laboratory text DNA SCIENCE, CSHL and Carolina Biological Supply, 1988,
Micklos and Freyer state on page 75 that "Chlorine in water will inactivate traces
of ethidium bromide."  I'm not suggesting that 10mgs/ml constitutes a "trace."
I'm only wondering whether others would agree with this proposition.  Since
leaving school (which is where I was when I first read this statement), I have
tried to sell this idea to my fellow lab rat colleagues in the field only to have
them all look at me as if I'd  lost my mind. Anyone care to comment? - about the
EtBr; not my mental state -

skorycd at wrote:

> 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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