Dean of Engineering issues statement against use of gentian violet

A group of Queen’s Engineering and Applied Science ‘Purple People’ taken in 2013. Photo by Robin Dawes.

It’s perhaps one of the most obvious things associated with Queen’s University and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences – purple.

For decades, engineering students have dyed themselves and their school jackets – the Golden Party Armour more commonly referred to as a GPA. The deep purple dye that the students have used to obtain their desired hue is gentian violet. But it won’t be anymore.

On Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, Dr. Kevin Deluzio, Dean of Engineering and Applied Science, issued a statement directing against the use of gentian violet. This comes after Health Canada issued a warning of a potential cancer risk associated with the dye.

According to Health Canada, which issued the warning in June of 2019, gentian violet is an antiseptic dye used to treat fungal infections.

“Health Canada has completed a safety review of human health products and veterinary drugs containing gentian violet and has found that exposure to these products may increase the risk of cancer,” the national health agency said in a statement.

“Given the seriousness of this risk, Health Canada is advising Canadians to stop using all human and veterinary drug products containing gentian violet.”

Health Canada completed two safety assessments on the matter, and 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 timing of Dean Deluzio’s statement also coincided with the final day of the 2019 jacket pickup dates for the Queen’s Engineering and Applied Sciences jackets – referred to as the aforementioned Golden Party Armour due to the jackets being a gold-coloured leather – which students picked up on Wednesday Dec. 11 and Thursday, Dec. 12 this year. Traditionally, engineering and applied science students dye the gold-coloured leather with gentian violet.

“The move away from gentian violet use for jacket dyeing is critical due to both its known toxicity and bioaccumulation potential in aquatic environments and the recently released Health Canada warning regarding the potential carcinogenic nature of gentian violet,” Deluzio said in the statement.

“Students who disregard University and Residence policies through inappropriate behaviour or damaging University property will continue to be subject to the student non-academic misconduct process. Damage to Residence buildings that is not attributable to an individual will be shared by the engineering students in the building through fees applied to their student accounts.”

But the end of the use of gentian violet on campus does not mean the end of the ‘Purple People’ of Queen’s Engineering. Campus Equipment Outfitters has found a different and safe product for the purpose of dyeing the jackets, which is available for $30 and enough to dye two jackets, according to their website.

A test swatch of the new product and method being offered to dye engineering jackets purple. Photo via Campus Equipment Outfitters website.

And the authorities at Queen’s are pleased to see the tradition continue with this product and method, Deluzio indicated.

“The alternative product being sold by Campus Equipment Outfitters, the method developed, and the messaging regarding appropriate use, addresses our concerns over students endangering their health and the obligations of the University in preventing a Ministry of the Environment reportable release of gentian violet on University property,” he said in the statement.

To read the complete safety alert from Health Canada regarding the use of gentian violet, click here.

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