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Handling Ethidium Bromide

See requirements for UC San Diego researchers working with ethidium bromide.

Ethidium bromide (C21H20BrN3) is a potent mutagen used as a nucleic acid stain. Ethidium bromide requires extra precautions during use and disposal because of its highly toxic and mutagenic properties.

Requirement for researchers

UC San Diego researchers working with ethidium bromide must complete the Acutely Toxic hazard control plan (HCP) obtained through the Hazard Control Plan Application (HCP).

Never work alone when working with hazardous chemicals.

Use an EH&S-approved ethidium bromide alternative

green labs logo

The Green Labs team encourages researchers to use these as they carry the following benefits:

EH&S has determined that the alternatives listed below do not require management as a hazardous waste. The products are available in Marketplace.

  • Using EtBr alternatives simplifies the waste protocol, reduce hazardous waste costs, and help make UC San Diego a safer, more sustainable campus
  • Eliminate the use of a potent mutagen, possible carcinogen and reproductive toxin
  • Using EtBr alternatives, which are non-cytotoxic and non-mutagenic, are considered to be safe for both the user and the environment
List of Ethidium Bromide alternatives that do not require management as a hazardous waste per EH&S
Alternative Names Manufacturer Buffer (Suspended, included with) Solid Waste (Gel) Liquid Waste
EZ-Vision AMRESCO, VWR 6x Loading Buffer Sealed bag, Label “non-hazardous” place in regular trash Drain
Gel Green &
Gel Red
Biotium DMSO or Water Sealed bag, Label “non-hazardous” place in regular trash Drain
SYBR Safe Thermo Fisher Scientific (Invitrogen) 0.5x TBE Buffer Sealed bag, Label “non-hazardous” place in regular trash Drain

 label for ethidium

Waste Management: Gels used with alternatives must be clearly labeled as non-hazardous. The setup shown below should be used. All materials are available by contacting

Obtain approval before beginning work.

Get approval from your principal investigator before beginning a project involving ethidium bromide.

Evaluate the hazards before beginning work.

Be prepared for accidental spills

Ethidium bromide spills are very serious and require immediate cleanup.

Some facilities use a hand-held ultraviolet (UV) lamp to check for residual ethidium bromide contamination following spill cleanup. A reddish-orange fluorescence can be detected under both "long" and "short" UV wavelengths.

Use of a handheld UV lamp to detect traces of ethidium bromide may serve as an occasional check of laboratory practices, but it cannot substitute for good cleanliness and careful contamination control.

Be aware of these limitations:

  • The ability of hand-held UV lamps to detect small spills is not guaranteed.
  • Ease of detection depends upon a variety of factors including:
    • Chemical composition of the sample
    • Wavelength of the UV lamp
    • Intensity of the lamp
Questions? Contact the EH&S Chemical Hygiene Officer.
Notice: Disposal of hazardous waste using sinks, intentional evaporation, or as regular trash is against the law. Campus laboratories must abide by strict state and federal waste disposal requirements. You may be held liable for violations of applicable laws.