If it doesn't kill you...

Apr 18 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Lab safety is important. Really fucking important. We sometimes use some pretty crazy compounds in our work, and I expect the folks that work for me are trained and astutely follow the rules so that they (and their lab mates) are safe.

But labeling is out of fucking control and does more harm than good. Every fucking thing in our chemical room has some sort of "hazard" label - but it is not all hazardous. I get the "err on the side of caution" argument. But if every-fucking-thing is dangerous it is not always clear what you should actually be careful with.

And then there is the companies that try to profit off of a false sense of security. For example, ethidium bromide, a DNA stain commonly used to see your bands on a gel. Everyone is always told how horrible and terrible EtBr is. Turns out that is a load of horse pucky. The ridiculous hoops you jump through to "detox" EtBr are more dangerous than the actual chemical! But those "safe" alternatives to EtBr?? The ones that cost about 10x more and don't work quite as well?? Actually not safer (based on mutagenicity/toxicology).

Lab safety should be a real, thoughtful discussion. Not a knee-jerk-cover-the-university's-ass stupid exercise in pointlessness.

2 responses so far

  • becca says:

    HA. I've had some interesting conversations on toxicity of EtBr.
    In fairness, I'm pretty sure it *does* cause mutations out the yang yang. It's just most of those bulky adducts get repaired really efficiently, thanks to our polymerases evolving in a world in which polyaromatic hydrocarbons are everywhere.

    That said, I won't be drinking EtBr anytime soon.

    ALL regulations should be based on real, thoughtful, evidence-based evaluations. They are not. Since humans are particularly bad at risk evaluation, it's not shocking regulations that govern risk are particularly nutty. I actually think on the whole chemical safety tends to be under emphasized, if you compare it to the nuttiness that surrounds radiation safety.

  • BrainProf says:

    Agreed, and I don't think the training received really lets you distinguish between what's actually hazardous and what may be hazardous under some circumstances.

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