Help! ethidium bromide accident!

David Micklem dmicklem at cmgm.nospam.invalid
Wed Nov 27 18:18:02 EST 2002

In article <O8cF9.2102$LX4.2744363 at>, Pedro Lourenco
<pedro.lourenco at> wrote:

Assuming this isn't a troll...

To put it in perspective, in the modified Ames test 5 micrograms of
ethidium bromide (ie far far far far more than you are likely to have
exposed your skin to) produces roughly 18 times _fewer_ revertants than
the condensate from a _single_ cigarette (PNAS 1975, vol 72,

Add to that the fact that _most if not all_ of the ethidium bromide
will have bound to protein in your skin, and got nowhere near your DNA.

The risk to you from this exposure is miniscule. I believe that it is
incredibly unlikely that your rash had anything to do with ethidium

The UV light probably did your DNA more harm. Generally speaking, the
UV transilluminator you use to look at your gels is probably much more
of a real hazard to your health than the ethidium bromide is. (I know
lots of people who are ultra-paranoid about ethidium bromide, but have
managed to give themselves a UV sunburn off the transilluminator.
Totally daft.)

Relax, enjoy life.


>I am posting this message hoping to find someone that could share the
>experience of having the skin contaminated with ethidium bromide.
>Last week at the end of the day I was in the lab fixing the plumbing of
>pulse field equipment without gloves (big mistake, I am usually very
>careful), trusting to have no problem since nobody was supposed to run gels
>with EB on that equipment. Unfortunately someone used the equipment with a
>gel with EB. I washed my hands very well afterwards and went home. In the
>evening, I started to feel a little rash and to notice a slightly pink
>coloration in some zones of my skin. I had a sudden presentiment and I
>immediately thought of ethidium bromide.
>In the next morning I checked my hands with UV light and I found out that
>they were lightly glowing specially in two more intense spots in their back
>(surprisingly the palm of the hands didn't show any sign of glowing).
>I have to tell that I got pretty scared and I went to a doctor in that same
>day. The doctor didn't know what to do since I had no acute symptoms and the
>alterations on of my skin coloration were not obvious. The national
>toxicology helpline (I'm from Portugal) said that they had no idea of that
>compound. The doctor and the person in the toxicology helpline (also a
>doctor) talked to each other and concluded that there was nothing much to do
>except wash very well the hands with soap and not put anything that could
>permeate the compound inside the body like solvents or creams. They also
>said to relax since the chemical I hadn't wash in first day would be
>attached to my skin and wouldn't pose a big danger to other people (can
>anybody confirm?).
>Since UV can also do serious harm to your skin, I didn't check my hands
>until today.
>Today (almost one week later) I checked my hands with a not very potent blue
>UV light I i only noticed a very slight EB glowing in the back of one hand.
>Next I decided to risk and I checked in the lab UV table.
>Though diminished a little glow was still there.
>Now I am getting nervous!
>Anybody know for experience how long is going to last the presence of EB in
>the skin?
>I presume that EB is bonded to proteins and DNA in my epidermis, which is
>constituted by dead skin, but do you think it is dangerous to my family.
>The concentration of EB in the buffer that had contact with my hands should
>be less than 0.01 micrograms/ml.
>Does anybody had similar experiences in the lab?
>Thank you in advance
>Pedro Lourenco

D.R. Micklem,              Time flies like an arrow... 
Dept. of Genetics,          Fruit flies like a banana.
Cambridge University,      Email:drm21 at mole dot bio dot cam dot ac dot uk. 
Cambridge, UK              Phone: +44 (1223) 766336
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