July 10, 2019 1:31 pm

Dye used to turn Queen’s engineering students purple may cause cancer

Gentian violet in dye used by Queen's engineering students during frosh week


Health Canada has issued a warning about a chemical compound used by engineering students across the country to turn themselves purple.

The compound, gentian violet, may increase the risk of cancer, according to the government agency.

READ MORE: Health Canada, MLHU urge Canadians to stop using products with gentian violet

Health Canada completed two safety reviews of gentian violet after the World Health Organization first raised the alarm about the compound.

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Gentian violet has been part of Queen’s engineering student frosh celebrations for years. Students dye their skin and university jackets purple as a sort of initiation when joining engineering schools.

Delaney Benoit, president of the Queen’s University Engineering Society, declined to be interviewed, but did offer the following statement on the matter:

“Given the clear health warning issued by the government, the Engineering Society cannot endorse the use of gentian violet,” Benoit’s statement read.

She also said the society is currently researching alternatives to use in the group’s yearly tradition.

Gentian violet is an antiseptic dye that is used on both humans and animals, according to KFL&A Public Health medical resident Dr. Ethan Toumishey.

“It can be applied to wounds as an antiseptic, which is its normal use,” he said.

READ MORE: KFL&A Health hopes to band together with nearby Public Health Agencies

Health Canada’s warning states gentian violet is also used to treat some fungal infections.

According to Health Canada, there was only one non-prescription drug containing gentian violet, called Gentiane Violet Liquid Topical, which the manufacturer has voluntarily stopped selling in Canada.

A recall has also been issued for veterinary products containing gentian violet.

Health Canada is urging people to read labels to make sure products do not have the potentially dangerous compound in them.

If you do have a product containing gentian violet, Toumishey says do not dispose of it by throwing it out or washing it down the drain.

“For human products you can bring them to a pharmacy.”

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For veterinary products, Toumishey says to return them to the veterinarian or pharmacy where they were purchased.

Additionally, Health Canada is advising people to restrict the use of three sterile dressings made of polyurethane foam.

Toumishey says they pose less risk because the gentian violet shouldn’t come into direct contact with skin.

“What they’d be recommending is not to use those for more than six months and not at all if you are pregnant or nursing.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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