Jeromy Choi, a fifth-year engineering student at the University of Ottawa, shakes off excess dye after submerging himself in the it — an engineering tradition during the start of Frosh week at the University of Ottawa on Sept 5, 2010. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Pawel Dwulit)

VIDEO: Students review use of purple dye at frosh events after Health Canada warning

Products that contain gentian violet were linked to an increased risk of cancer

Some engineering students are rethinking how to approach a long-standing tradition of dying their bodies purple in the wake of a Health Canada warning.

Student representatives at Queen’s University and the University of Toronto say they’re looking at alternatives to gentian violet after health products that contain the substance were linked to an increased risk of cancer.

The dye is popular among some campus engineering societies who’ve made it a tradition to colour students’ hair, pinkies, and even entire bodies at frosh events.

Laura Berneaga, president of the University of Toronto engineering society, says it’s considered a way to honour engineers of yore who used to wear purple armbands as identification.

But now that it’s come under Health Canada scrutiny, she says her school’s orientation committee is searching for possible alternatives.

“We want to make sure that safety is the number one priority for us,” says Berneaga, adding that they’d like to continue the rite of passage, if possible.

“Whatever option we end up going with, we want to make sure the students feel safe participating in this tradition.”

Health Canada issued the warning last month following a review of health products and veterinary drugs containing gentian violet.

“After completing two safety assessments, the department concluded that, as with other known cancer causing substances, there is no safe level of exposure, and therefore any exposure to these drug products is a potential cause for concern,” the agency says in a statement.

Over at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., the engineering society president says they are taking a cautious approach.

“Given the clear health warning issued by the government, the engineering society cannot endorse the use of gentian violet. The society is currently researching alternatives,” says Delaney Benoit, reading a statement also posted to Facebook.

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So-called “purpling” has been common practice for years at several Ontario schools including Western University in London, the University of Waterloo, the University of Ottawa, and Ryerson University in downtown Toronto.

Gentian violet, also known as crystal violet, is an antiseptic dye used to treat fungal infections.

Health Canada says products containing the dye have been used on the skin, on mucous membranes inside the nose, mouth or vagina, on open wounds, or on the nipple of a nursing mother to treat oral thrush in infants.

There was only one non-prescription drug product containing gentian violet marketed in Canada that is known to used by nursing mothers, Health Canada states.

“The manufacturer has voluntarily stopped marketing this product in Canada and its product licence has been cancelled.”

More information at: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/recall-alert-rappel-avis/index-eng.php

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

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