Engineering will no longer use a purple dye to colour members' skin on OWeek, following a Health Canada announcement that the dye could be a cancer risk.

The Undergraduate Engineering Society uses gentian violet for their traditional "purpling" process, they confirmed Thursday.

"All engineering schools in Canada including Western are looking for an alternative dye that does not pose any risk to students as 'purpling' is an important tradition to engineering students," said Matthew Tutty, UES president.

Engineering students around the country practice 'purpling' by immersing part or all of their body in the liquid designed to coat the skin with the colour traditionally associated with their profession.

While many assume the 'purpling' is meant to match Western University's school colour, the University of Waterloo's engineering society says the colour association is a century old — engineers aboard the Titanic, who wore purple overalls, sunk with the ship while trying to keep its engines running, according to the society.

At Western, and in faculties around the country, engineering students don the purple for frosh week as a sign of faculty spirit.

Health Canada released their warning against the dye in mid-June. Their inquiry into the product came after a similar finding by the World Health Organization.

"[The dye] may increase the risk of cancer," read the announcement. "Given the seriousness of this risk, Health Canada is advising Canadians to stop using all human and veterinary products containing gentian violet.”

Gentian violet has long been used for its antifungal and antiseptic properties, and can classify bacteria. Non-medically, it can dye textiles, paper and blue and black ink. It was first synthesized in the 19th century, and its antiseptic capabilities were used in World War I.

The government's warning does not address 'purpling,' and instead advises against uses like marking locations on the skin for body piercings, or anti-septic wound sprays for pets.

Every OWeek, engineering sophs and students alike can dip themselves into the dye like a bathtub, eventually staining residence showers with what they wash off.

The president of the University of Toronto's engineering society told the Toronto Star they use one gram of the dye per 600 litres of water, with some amount of isopropyl alcohol. They encourage students to close their eyes and mouth while dunking themselves in tubs of the solution, she added.

Tutty said that Western's Occupational Health and Safety department received a memo from the government following the warning. The engineering faculty then advised the society they cannot use the dye.

Cecilia Liu, the University Students' Council's student programs officer, is organizing Western's 2019 orientation week alongside the university administration. She said the organizers were aware and looking to solve the problem.

"The safety of our students is our number one priority. We are working with partners across campus to ensure that a safe alternative dye is found for OWeek 2019," she said.

Update (July 12, 9:23 p.m.): paragraph 12 has been updated to clarify its reference to the University of Toronto, not merely Toronto.


Martin is the Editor-in-Chief of the Gazette. You can contact him at, or @martinxallen on Twitter.

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