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A mutagen is a substance or agent that causes an increase in the rate of change in genes (subsections of the DNA of the body's cells). These mutations (changes) can be passed along as the cell reproduces, sometimes leading to defective cells or cancer.
Examples of mutagens include certain biological and chemical agents as well exposure to ultraviolet light or ionizing radiation.
Mutagenesis is the formation of mutations.
Do not confuse a mutagen with a carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer). Mutagens may cause cancer, but not always.
Do not confuse a mutagen with a teratogen (a substance that causes change or harm to a fetus or embryo).
There are many types of mutations, some of which are harmful and others which have little or no effect on the body's function. See DNA and Mutations a clear, multi-page resource at the U of California at Berkeley.
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Mutagens can be identified using the Ames test and other biochemical testing methods.
The hazard classification process detailed in paragraph A.5 of Appendix A of HCS 2012 lists the criteria that are used in evaluating germ cell mutagenicity. Substances that are classified as Categories 1A, 1B, and 2 mutagens are required to have the health hazard pictogram (shown here on the right) on the label and, optionally, the Safety Data Sheet. This classification will also trigger various hazard statements as well as precautionary statements that must appear on both the label and SDS.
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Information about mutagenic effects, if known, will be found in Section 11 (toxicological information) of an SDS. However, very few chemicals have ever been tested for mutagenicity, so the absence of information in this section does not necessarily mean that substance is not a mutagen!
If the Safety Data Sheet indicates the material is a mutagen you should consider substituting it with a less hazardous material. If you must work with a known mutagen, Section 8 (exposure controls/personal protection) of the SDS will have recommendations for personal protective equipment (PPE) and workplace engineering controls such as a fume hood to minimize your exposure.
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See also: carcinogen, clastogen, cytotoxin, teratogen.
Additional definitions from Google and OneLook.
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