Spotlight on Safety-Greener Chemistry by Kathy Heinemann, Research Safety Specialist

Making a change in our standard protocols is easier said than done, even when we are presented with healthier options. For this season, I would like to highlight the researchers and students in the Ruben L. Gonzalez laboratory, who have jointly decided to change from using ethidium bromide to a less toxic alternative. Kelvin Caban, a postdoctoral research fellow, describes how and why they made the switch:
“Gel electrophoresis is a standard molecular biology technique that we use frequently to qualitatively inspect for the presence and quality of DNA and RNA, and to purify these nucleic acids for other downstream applications (e.g., cloning). In the past, our method of choice for visualizing nucleic acids involved staining gels with ethidium bromide (EtBr), which intercalates into the nucleic acid and fluoresces when excited with ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Although EtBr is an effective stain, it is also a mutagen, a potential carcinogen and a potential reproductive toxin. In an effort to minimize our occupational exposure to hazardous materials, we have recently decided to switch to using Sybr® Safe, a less toxic and environmentally-friendly nucleic acid gel stain. In addition to being less hazardous, Sybr® Safe has the added benefit that nucleic acids that are stained with it can be visualized with blue light instead of UV light. This was a big selling point for us because we routinely perform gel extractions, which involves the excision of a UV-illuminated DNA or RNA sample from a gel. Gel extractions result in the prolonged and unnecessary exposure of the user and the nucleic acid sample to UV radiation. This not only poses a health risk, but may also damage the nucleic acid sample making downstream applications, such as cloning, less efficient. Although there were some initial concerns about the efficacy of Sybr® Safe relative to EtBr, two of our senior lab members with previous experience using Sybr® Safe, have assured us that it is extremely sensitive and can be used to stain nanogram quantities of both DNA and RNA.”

Laboratory Relocation Guide by Christina Clark, Research Safety Specialist

Columbia University plans for and executes numerous laboratory moves every year.  Whether the laboratory move is on campus, between Columbia University campuses or to another institution, each move presents challenges related to the relocation/disposition of hazardous chemicals, biological materials, radioactive isotopes, and controlled substances. Agencies such as the Department of Transportation and International Air Transport Association set strict requirements for ground and air transport of hazardous materials. Detailed knowledge and careful planning are required to ensure transportation safety and compliance.
EH&S has developed the Columbia University Laboratory Relocation Guide to ensure that all stakeholders involved in the laboratory relocation process have a transparent and consistent framework to utilize in ensuring a safe and compliant move. 
The user-friendly guide includes complementary forms to help in the relocation process, including the Ideal Laboratory Move Timeline, Custom Timeline Template, and Laboratory Vacating Checklist. The guide provides clients with up-to-date, specific instructions for a variety of pre-clearance procedures. Laboratories will be also able to submit an online Lab Relocation Notification form to EH&S, completed with information such as the anticipated move date, move location, types of hazardous materials that require relocation, contact information, project manager information, and department administrator information.  This information will greatly assist EH&S in expediting project-related services. For more information on how to relocate your laboratory, the Columbia University Laboratory Relocation Guide can be accessed online here www.ehs.columbia/_____.edu .

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